By Christine Rousselle
A Catholic diocese in Canada will be requiring proof of vaccination and identity verification for anyone age 12 or older to attend Mass or other events held at parishes.
“Effective October 22, 2021, it will be mandatory for all persons 12 and older wishing to attend Masses or Services in our churches to demonstrate proof of vaccination by using the Vaccine Passport: NLVaxPass or by showing proof of vaccination by presenting their QR code before entering our churches,” said an Oct. 15 letter from Bishop Robert Anthony Daniels of Grand Falls to the priests and pastoral leaders of the diocese.
The Diocese of Grand Falls is located in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Its territory is approximately half of the island of Newfoundland.
The province enacted its vaccine passport system on Oct. 22, requiring residents to download an app and present proof of vaccination to enter “non-essential businesses.”
Houses of worship, along with yoga studios, hair salons, bowling alleys, wedding receptions, indoor restaurants, bingo halls, bars, and hockey arenas are all locations where proof of vaccination is required.
Those who have recently turned 12 will have a three-month “grace period” to receive a COVID-19 vaccine before being subject to the vaccine passport system at churches, the diocese said.
Per Bishop Daniels’ letter, those wishing to attend Mass in the diocese have to download the NLVaxPass app, or print out a physical copy of their vaccine QR code to show the ushers before they can enter the church. A different app, NLVaxVerify, will be used by the ushers, greeters, or other volunteers to verify vaccination status upon entry.
Once vaccination status is verified, a person will then have to show an identification card to go to Mass. For anyone 19 or older, this must be a photo identification.
“The name on the identification must match the name on the COVID-19 Vaccination Record QR code or other form of proof of vaccination,” said Daniels. If the names and birthdays do not match, ushers are instructed to request an additional ID card.
Daniels said he had asked the province’s Ministry of Health and Community Services “to verify that this step will be necessary.”
He noted that in certain cases where “it will be a burden for those attending to provide proof,” churches may allow entry with restrictions “for pastoral reasons.” Examples of these situations include funerals and weddings, he noted.
Despite the implementation of the vaccine passport, capacity at Masses in the Diocese of Grand Falls is still limited to 50%, congregational singing is prohibited, clergy and parishioners must wear non-medical masks at all times, physical distancing is required, and all who enter the church must write down their information for potential contact tracing.
These restrictions, said Daniels, will be lifted “for those parishes/churches complying with the Vaccine Passport Mandate.” He added that the health ministry “has assured us that we will be notified in a timely manner to effect those changes in our parishes.”
To speed up the process of verifying vaccination statuses before Mass, parish offices may keep a record of the vaccinated. This can only be done with the consent of each person, however.
“This is all new to us; there will be a learning curve and there will be glitches,” said Daniels. “Our patience and the patience of our parishioners will be tested. But we cannot let the pandemic win.”
“Our people need access to the Sacramental life of the Church especially now. Together we can make this work,” he said.
The other two dioceses in the province have taken different approaches to implementing the vaccine passport system.
The Archdiocese of St. John’s in Newfoundland, the oldest Catholic jurisdiction in English-speaking North America, has not released public statements concerning the vaccine passport.
The Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador is requiring vaccine verification “for all non-faith-based gatherings on Church Property beginning on October 22nd,” according to an Oct. 19 letter from Bishop Bart van Roijen.
“This includes any events where parish facilities are rented out or used by third party groups,” he said. “It is the parish’s responsibility to ensure that all groups using their facilities are compliant with proof of Public Health’s Proof of Vaccination mandate, this includes the verification of the person’s personal identification.”
Masks and physical distancing will still be required, said van Roijen.
“I would like to extend my gratitude to the priests, ministers, and employees for your cooperation in keeping our parishes safe from the spread of the virus,” he said. “Your attention to these protocols is gratefully appreciated.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Newfoundland and Labrador has reported 1,964 cases of COVID-19, with 15 deaths. There is presently one person reported in the hospital with the disease.
In September, the Archdiocese of Moncton in New Brunswick announced a vaccine mandate for anyone age 12 or older at gatherings in churches, rectories, or community centers of the archdiocese. Several days later, the archdiocese said it would not require proof of vaccination at Masses, baptisms, and prayer groups.