Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley, OFM Cap., the ninth bishop and sixth archbishop in the 200-year history of the Archdiocese of Boston, announced today that all Catholic Churches in the Archdiocese will be returning to a face mask mandate this holiday season.

The face mask mandate will begin on Saturday, December 18.

"What's being asked of us is for the common good to protect the most defenseless among us," O'Malley said.

For the common good can be one of the Cardinal's lifelong hymns. In 1992, when Pope John Paul II announced the appointment of then Bishop O'Malley as the sixth bishop of Fall River, many of us on the SouthCoast witnessed his local commitment in New Bedford, Fall River and an even wider community, active with the most vulnerable among us.

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Many of us saw firsthand how he ministered to the frail, weak and the powerless, who fell through those well known cracks of life, stuck in a long-suffering place of confinement. Over the 10 years he spent here, if there was one never-ending theme to his ministry, it was that we need to take care of each other.

In that same spirit, the Cardinal issued a mask mandate once again "in the light of spiking numbers of new COVID cases and the likely increase in those numbers in the upcoming holiday season," he said.

The mandate takes effect the weekend of December 18 and ends on January, 17, 2022, and will include all public masses, weddings and funerals. He also reminded all the Mass celebrants, deacons, readers, servers, choir members and instrumentalists will all be required to wear masks when they're not speaking. Children younger than five are not required to wear masks and children younger than two should not wear masks.

In his directive, the Cardinal made reference to 9/11.

"In some ways, the present surrealistic atmosphere is similar to what we experienced after the attack of September 11," he said. "We were shaken from our complacency and confronted with the reality that changed our lives overnight. Just as 9/11, we need to come together as a people with the profound sense of solidarity and community – realizing that so many people are suffering and fearful."

The Archdiocese of Boston also continues to urge vaccination as the most effective way to help bring this pandemic under control and to keep families safe.

Thinking back, it's been a few years since this soft-spoken, unpretentious and humble servant of God enjoyed the offerings of our local restaurants. The years have passed quickly, but at 77, he remains nailed to the belief that we need to take care of each other, because we need each other.

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