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Catholic churches prepare to reopen to thousands across East Tennessee

The Diocese of Knoxville has 51 churches and 73,000 in East Tennessee, and all are welcome back to in-person mass this weekend.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Fifty-one Catholic churches across East Tennessee will host their first weekend masses this Saturday and Sunday since closing due to Covid-19.

The Diocese of Knoxville will open up its doors for half capacity services this weekend.

They know not all 73,000 Catholics will come back just yet, but churches are preparing to host as many parishioners as possible.

"There are some people who are, ahh this is no big deal. There're others who are very anxious," said Bishop Richard Stika.

He released guidelines for all Catholic churches to follow earlier this month.

Every other pew will be roped off. Family groups can sit together, but everyone else must be spaced six feet apart..

People must wear masks, and use hand sanitizer before entering. Masks will be available for those who forget to bring them.

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"I know some people are gonna be inconvenienced like with masks and stuff but you know we're doing the best that we can to make sure that we're good citizens and also practice our faith," said Bishop Stika.

At Thursday's noon mass, all in attendance had masks.

Changes are also coming to communion.

When Catholics receive communion, they can do so by presenting their hands, or having the priest directly place the host on their tongue.

The latter is not allowed right now, sparking some complaints.

The bishop said on Twitter he'd remove anyone who actively demanded the Eucharist be placed on their tongue during mass.

"In any circumstance, if somebody would make a political or religious statement as they receive the Eucharist I would do the same thing," said Stika.

That likely won't happen, as the church is just happy to have people back.

Parishes will continue to live stream masses for those who don't feel ready to attend in person.

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For those who argue faith alone is enough protection from the virus, the bishop offers a compromise.

"How does God protect us? By using common sense. And so I believe that by the intellect and by the sciences and stuff, this is the protection that God has given to us."

It will be up to individual parishes if they chose to have people sign in before they enter the church building.

Some churches may add additional mass times.

The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus will resume weekend masses at 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 30.