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EP Churches Adjust Rituals As H1N1 Flu Spreads

by ABC-7 Reporter/Anchor Celina Avila

EL PASO, Texas — Fears about the swine flu spreading are now changing the way church services are conducted.

As flu season gets underway, some congregations across El Paso are adjusting their rituals.

“We want to ask people to take extra precautions,” said Monsignor Arturo Banuelas of St. Pius Church.

Those precautions include suspending sharing wine from a common chalice during communion, not holding hands during the “Our Father” and not touching during the sign of peace.

As pastor for one of the largest parishes in El Paso, Monsignor Arturo Banuelas of St. Pius church finds it especially difficult to steer clear of hand shakes and hugs.

“Especially because we’re a very friendly community and everybody wants to touch and hold hands. “

That’s why he says he’s getting creative, “to give each other the sign of peace by using sign language.”

Parishioners of Immaculate Conception in Downtown El Paso say these are small but necessary changes to limit the spread of the virus.

“Right now with this outbreak, yes, absolutely.”

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing that the church is taking precautions, you know, extra precautions.”

“We shouldn’t be shaking hands in the first place, that’s a good idea.”

And while there’s no clear message from the Catholic diocese, there are some strong recommendations for those who attend mass.

“We’re very concerned especially since one of the first persons to die in El Paso was one of our parishioners,” Monsignor Banuelas said. He adds that if you’ve been recently ill, or don’t feel well, skip mass altogether…God will understand.

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