Cranston church’s offer of palms prompts call to police

Coronavirus

A sign on the door of St. Patrick’s Church in Cranston says palms are offered inside. Cranston Police confirmed they were called to the church Sunday afternoon. (WPRI/Merrill Sampson)

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Despite a directive from state officials to skip any sort of distribution of palms on Palm Sunday, at least one Cranston church kept the option for its parishioners.

Cranston Police Chief Michael Winquist confirmed Sunday that officers responded to St. Patrick’s Church after someone called to report palms were being given out.

“It turned out that the doors to the church were left open with a basket of palms left in the vestibule for parishioners to take one,” Winquist said in an email. “No clergy were present.”

He said police did not take any action, as Gov. Gina Raimondo’s directive not to hand out palms did not come with an official executive order.

Raimondo announced Friday there would be no distribution of palms for the holiday, which marks the start of Holy Week for Christians.

Bishop Thomas Tobin, the leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, subsequently urged parishes to comply with her directive.

Carolyn Cronin, a spokesperson for the diocese, said St. Patrick’s in Cranston is not associated with the Roman Catholic Church. Cronin said she has been monitoring the diocesan parishes and is not aware of any of their churches handing out palms.

No one answered the phone at St. Patrick’s Church. A sign on the door outside said “palms are available within,” and a large stack of palms were laid out on a table.

Palms available for pickup at St. Patrick’s Church in Cranston.

Raimondo’s press secretary, Josh Block, said “defying this public health guidance is unacceptable.”

“The governor was clear that palms can serve as a vector for the virus, and that continuing to give them out puts the community — and particularly older Rhode Islanders — at increased risk of exposure,” Block said in an email.

Multiple parishes canceled plans to distribute palms after the governor’s directive. At St. Rocco’s in Johnston, Father Angelo Carusi had initially sent out a newsletter that included hours to pick up the palms on Saturday and Sunday.

“I did not pass out the palm,” Carusi said by phone Sunday, saying the newsletter was sent out prior to the governor and bishop’s recommendation. He acknowledged the palms were still left out, though he told any parishioners who asked that palm distribution was canceled.

Some Christians have expressed frustration that picking up palms was prohibited, even as retailers continue to offer curbside pickup and delivery of a variety of items not considered to be necessities, such as liquor.

Father Adam Young, the pastor at St. Paul’s in Cranston, said on Twitter he canceled plans to have drive-through palm distribution because of the governor’s instructions.

“I wonder why the governor has chosen to require Catholic Churches not distribute palms, but has said nothing about the amount of people in liquor stores, getting coffee at the D&D drive through, pumping their own gas,” Young tweeted.

Raimondo, a practicing Catholic, responded to those frustrations in her daily briefing Sunday, saying health officials said there was no safe way to distribute palms, including leaving them out at parishes.

“This was a very difficult decision and one that I hated to make,” Raimondo said. “We know that this virus lives for a very long time on surfaces.”

She said she hoped there would be a chance to make up the day later in the year. Multiple priests have said they are refrigerating the palms for future distribution.

“I’m sorry,” Raimondo said. “I wish I had a better answer.”

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook


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