(Reuters) - Two of the largest Roman Catholic archdioceses in America are opening up eight cemeteries for visitors in the New York City area on Sunday, after closing them weeks ago due to the new coronavirus pandemic.
The Archdiocese of New York, with 2.8 million Catholics, as well as the Archdiocese of Newark, which has 1.3 million Catholics in northeastern New Jersey, both announced this week that they are opening for visitors starting Sunday, with restrictions, including limiting visits and services to just 10 mourners.
Both diocese had among the most restrictive rules in the nation, as New York and New Jersey are hard hit by the deadly respiratory disease COVID-19 caused by the contagious virus.
More than 33,000 people have died in both states combined from the respiratory disease, largely in the metro New York City area.
Visitations to the cemeteries were prohibited for more than a month, in an effort to slow the spread of the disease that has killed more than 71,800 people across the United States.
Funerals were held but only with two family members allowed, along with a member of the clergy and a funeral director, both archdioceses said.
Many services were broadcast on sites such as Facebook and Zoom, and many of those services have been backed up for weeks because of the large number of dead that needed to be interred, a spokesperson from the Archdiocese of Newark said.
There were more than 1,000 burials in April in the six Newark church’s cemeteries, the archdiocese said.
No grave side visits were allowed, nor any visitors who typically walk dogs or jog on the grounds.
In a letter to parishioners posted online this week, Andrew Schafer, executive director of Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Newark, said that they know it has been a burden to family and friends of the deceased.
“We recognize it has been distressing and heartbreaking for so many and we share this sentiment. Carrying out our mission during these weeks amid the pandemic has posed many new challenges unlike ever before. There has been, and continues to be, a tremendous amount of careful coordination and heartfelt effort to ensure there is no disruption to the respectful burial of loved ones.”
Cemeteries in both archdiocese will have limited hours, and were posted on line. Services and visits are capped at 10 people at a grave site at a time, and all must wear protective masks and maintain social distancing.
Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Alistair Bell