Churches on the island see increased Mass attendance from 2020 low COVID

The congregation at Mass for the World Day of the Sick on February 11 at the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace. (Photo courtesy of Dann Ebina)

October account

However, the number is 18,700 lower than the pre-pandemic tally

By Patrick Downes
Catholic Herald of Hawaii

According to the latest October count, more Catholics in Hawaii are attending church as pandemic protocols ease. But the numbers are still far lower than they were before COVID-19.

The annual diocesan count of weekend Mass attendees recorded 27,455 pews in October 2021. This represents an increase of 8,460 from the 2020 tally of 18,995, a jump of 45%, but still 18,686 less than the pre-pandemic 2019 total of 46,141.

October is the month when the diocese counts weekend masses. Figures are the average weekend total for that month.

October 2020, at the height of the pandemic, saw a nearly 60% drop in Mass attendance. The numbers fell from 46,141 in October 2019 to 18,995 in 2020, a difference of 27,146 or 58.8%.

Bishop Larry Silva halted public liturgies on March 17, 2020. In-person Masses resumed on the weekend of May 30-31 of that year, with strict regulations that included mandatory face masks, social distancing, disinfection of benches and other precautionary measures.

Meanwhile, the bishop exempted Catholics in Hawaii from having to attend Sunday Mass, while encouraging those who could get there safely. It ended the exemption on April 3, 2021, the eve of Easter.

While Catholics could still attend Mass, fear of the virus kept many away. Shrinking worship space caused by social distancing has led many parishes to require reservations or tickets for Mass.

With the easing of government social distancing rules on December 1, 2021, churches were allowed to fill up again.

Churches with the highest numbers in 2021 are St. Joseph, Waipahu, at 1,150, up from 848 in 2020; St. Jude, Kapolei at 1,146, up from 635 in 2020; Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Ewa Beach, at 998, down from 568; and St. Augustine, Waikiki, at 844, down from 351.

For a pre-pandemic comparison, in 2019, St. Joseph had 3,252, St. Jude had 1,542, Our Lady of Perpetual Help had 1,531, and St. Augustine had 1,461.

The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Hawaii’s mother church, had 644 Mass attendees in 2021, 309 more than the 2020 total of 335.

Churchgoers at St. Stephen’s Diocesan Center Chapel on Feb. 13, 2022. (HCH Photo: Anna Weaver)

Despite the pandemic, mass attendance in Hawaii has been declining for decades.

In the 1990s, the number averaged around 60,000. This number declined by around 5,000 in the first decade of the 2000s.

Six years ago, in 2016, the number was 49,884. In 2017, it had fallen to 48,210; in 2018, at 46,890.

The total for each year cannot be considered an exact figure. Counts are done manually and tabulation errors occur. Some parishes omit to declare their count. For most years, the grand total must be adjusted to compensate for missing figures.

To obtain the October count, ushers or other volunteers count the number of people attending the Saturday Vigil Mass and Sunday Masses each weekend in October. Adults and children 12 and under are counted separately and then added together to obtain a total.

The final tally is the average of all weekends. The weekend totals are added together and then divided by the number of weekends. The resulting average is the “October count” submitted to the diocese for its records.

October is chosen because it is considered a neutral month, less affected by holidays and high-traffic holidays like Christmas and Easter. However, October has its own variables, like the football season. It is also a slower month for tourist-oriented parishes.

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