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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Last year in an historic move, the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City and St. Joseph issued a dispensation excusing parishioners from the “Holy Obligation” of attending weekly mass.

On Tuesday, June 1, the church will lift that dispensation as part of a campaign called “Come Home to Communion.” 

People in the metro will see billboards, receive written invitations and notice a push on social media by the Catholic Church to get people who have been worshipping virtually to return to in-person services.

An increase in vaccination rates and a decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations already have more people comfortable with returning to church, but now there is an official call by the Catholic Church to come back.

“We need to be a part of a community. For so long, especially our homebound and elderly folks, have been quarantined. They are still nervous and anxious about being back, but we feel it’s a safe healthy time and we want to invite people back,” said Father Mike Roach, priest at St. James Catholic Church in Liberty and Mid-town Kansas City.

For the first time in history, last Spring, St. James Church began live streaming masses, funerals, wedding and even confirmations. 

Many of those technological advances will continue long after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended but Roach said there nothing like seeing people face to face again.

“People come in here sobbing who haven’t been here in over a year. This building has a special memory for them. Their faith is deep within them and they want to be here with us and we want them to be here with us,” Roach said.

The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City and St. Joseph serves 98 parishes and missions across 27 counties, that equates to about 125,000 people of the Catholic faith. At a time when COVID-19 caused the jobless rate to skyrocket and mental health cases soared, the church did what it could virtually, but now leadership wants to be able to minister to those needs in person.

“So much is out of our hands that only God can control,” Roach said. “When people go through times of anxiety or despair or depression, they need every source they can get. A community that will love them.”

So, nearly 15 months after the pandemic here began, the emphasis for the church is shifting. 

Leadership wants to help congregants heal from the spiritual and mental effects of prolonged social isolation brought on by COVID-19 and leadership believes the best way to do that is to gather in person again.

As people begin to return, they can choose whether to wear a mask. There will be a designated section of the churches set aside for social distancing. 

Those who struggle with poor immune systems and their caregivers will still fall under the bishop’s dispensation allowing them to stay home from mass.