MEXICO CITY (CNS): Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City prayed to Our Lady of Guadalupe and cancelled Masses in the archdiocese on April 26 due to the swine flu outbreak.
The decision to cancel Masses followed instructions from the local health secretariat that all large gatherings be cancelled as authorities raced to contain an epidemic that threatened to spread well beyond Mexico.
By April 29, more than 150 Mexicans had died from the flu and more than 2400 were sick in the Mexican capital.
Cardinal Rivera celebrated Mass on April 26 behind closed doors in the Metropolitan Cathedral for about 50 people who had been permitted to enter.
In his homily, he called on the Mexican people to never lose hope and to assist each another during the crisis. He also prayed to Our Lady of Guadalupe for intervention, noting that she had helped during pandemics four times since 1554.
“We beg for your protection and help for quickly overcoming the epidemic that has affected our nation,” Cardinal Rivera prayed. “Cover us with your cloak; free us from this evil.”
Later in the day, an image of Christ on the cross – known as the “Lord of Health” – was removed from its spot in the cathedral for the first time since 1850 and carried in a procession around central Mexico City.
The “Cristo”, as the image is known, has been credited with past miracles, including intervention in an 1850 cholera outbreak.
As the United States confirmed the flu-related death of a 23-month-old in Texas April 28 and other cases of the illness, Catholic bishops suggested ways that pastors could alter the celebration of Mass in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.
Bishops in the dioceses of Dallas and Austin, Texas, encouraged pastors to avoid Communion under both species and offer only the host. They also highlighted the importance of good hygiene among eucharistic ministers.