SAN FRANCISCO—Organized by San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, Catholics gathered in front of City Hall at the Civic Center Plaza and the Cathedral of St. Mary the Assumption to protest perceived discriminatory government policies on church gatherings. According to the Archbishop, the procession’s purpose was to call on Mayor London Breed, Director of Public Health Dr. Grant Colfax, and San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón, to ease restrictions on public worship in San Francisco. The Archdiocese said that thousands attended the procession.

San Francisco Catholic protesters hold up placards.

Archbishop Cordileone collaborated with three San Francisco parishes including the St. Anthony of Padua Church, the St. Dominic Church, and the St. Patrick Church. The three churches converged at the Civic Center Plaza in simultaneous processions at 10 a.m. Catholic leaders throughout the city called worshippers to join them, including Star of the Sea Church in the Richmond District. 

Father Joseph of Star of the Sea Church shared a bulletin via email inviting church congregants to join the Archbishop. Star of the Sea congregants picked up “We are essential: Free the MASS!” placards in the interior of the church and followed Father Joseph on a one-hour walk to the Civic Center Plaza.

“We are Essential: Free the MASS” placards at Star of the Sea Church.

In an email sent out to church attendants, he warned the congregants to follow government health orders and be respectful: “We must wear masks and be socially distanced, and no political T-shirts or caps or signs will be permitted. The purpose of our walk is to pray to God, in the public square, for the restoration of religious liberty in our city, and for the healing of all who have been harmed by the pandemic in any way.”

The Star of the Sea attendants walked to City Hall while reciting three rosaries. A rosary is a series of prayers. Two women led the rosaries with their megaphones as the group travelling by foot was followed by a police car.

At 10:09 a.m. Archbishop Cordileone prepared to speak to the crowds. Crowds carried banners that read the slogan: “We are Essential: Free the MASS!” The placards were mass produced. There were people who were dressed in plain clothes while others wore religious attire. They carried flags representing their ecclesiastical organizations, crosses, and icons. 

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and clergy members prepare to greet protesters for the procession.

There was a simultaneous exercise event at the Civic Center Plaza with amplified music playing, which made hearing Cordileone greet the crowds and speak difficult. At around 10:20 the crowd began their walk in Eucharistic procession, a form of liturgical prayer, up to the Cathedral of St. Mary the Assumption, where they celebrated multiple masses outdoors with masks.

Spanish-speaking church members wore T-shirts that read the Archbishop’s slogan in Spanish. There were marchers who played music with drums and guitars as they marched nine blocks to the Cathedral.

At the intersection of Golden Gate Avenue and Larkin street, an onlooker with a megaphone yelled at the crowds: “Hypocrites! Hypocrites!”

At around 10:30 a.m., he shouted, “Look at the homeless people. Why don’t you help them?” 

One protester interviewed near the intersection of Golden Gate Avenue and Larkin, named Herbert, said he was motivated by a desire to stand for “freedom of religion.” He said, “We have a right to worship. You can go to a supermarket. You can go to a farmer’s market. You can go to street vendors outside. We should be able to go to mass and practice our religion.”

At the plaza of the Cathedral of St. Mary the Assumption, worshippers from English, Spanish, and Chinese congregations celebrated mass outdoors while wearing masks. The San Francisco Archdiocese YouTube channel shows worshippers practicing Eucharist, the Christian ceremony commemorating the Last Supper, in which bread and wine are consumed.

Catholics in outdoor procession celebrate Eucharist (Courtesy of Archdiocese of San Francisco YouTube Channel)

Archbishop Cordileone addressed the crowd, informing them of City Hall’s perceived unequal restrictions on church activity compared to other institutions: “Why can people shop at Nordstrom at 25% capacity, but only one of you is allowed at a time to pray inside this great cathedral, which is your cathedral? Is this equality? No.”

He described city government policies as “unrealistic” and said they were “suffocating restrictions on our national and constitutional right to worship.”

Cordileone called the government measures insulting: “One person at a time inside this great cathedral to pray? What an insult. They are mocking you and even worse, they are mocking God…To me you do matter. We have been patiently putting up with unjust treatment long enough, and now is the time to witness to our families and the primacy of God and to tell City Hall: no more.”

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone speaks to crowds of Catholic protesters at Cathedral of St. Mary the Assumption.
(Courtesy of Archdiocese of San Francisco YouTube Channel)

The Archbishop called on Catholics to fight faithfully and free from selfishness: “What I mean by going to the back of the line is we must be for God’s glory, not our own. There is far too much seeking of self-glory nowadays, and that has brought us to where we are now.” He mentioned that Christians are to act according to God’s will rather than living for self: “Know as the Prophet Isaiah tells us, we must act according to God’s thoughts and God’s ways. We must not use worldly means simply to fight to get our own way. In fighting for justice, we must fight for the glory of God.”

Cordileone exhorted the crowd to fight for equality with regard to government health orders aimed at minimizing the spread of the disease: “I am calling on every Catholic in this city and this country to continue to exercise responsible citizenship, to abide by reasonable public health rules, and to continue to serve our community despite the mockery to which we are being subject in so many different ways.”

Cordileone commended Catholics involved in charity work during the COVID pandemic: “This is God’s way and this is how I see Catholics serving our Lord. The workers at Catholic charities have not abandoned the homeless living on the street during this pandemic even when others have. They don’t do it for any attention or for accolades from the High and Mighty, but they are there, quietly working themselves to exhaustion, to provide food and transportation to the homeless in this time of pandemic.”

Catholic Protesters at Cathedral of St. Mary the Assumption.                                                 (Courtesy of Archdiocese of San Francisco YouTube Channel)

Patty, an attendant of St. Ignatius Church and Star of the Sea Church argued that local governments in the United States have been unequal in their treatment of churches when compared to other institutions in a text message sent at 6:32 p.m. on Monday: “The government has kept abortion clinics and marijuana clubs open because they “feel” they are essential, but not churches which provide marriages, funerals, baptisms, and Holy Mass because they feel it’s not essential!”

Describing conditions at her indoor workplace she said: “Grocery stores like ours can have 105 people in them, but a large cathedral that can hold thousands can only have one person inside at a time to pray. Is that not discriminatory against religion? A discrimination attorney in an event yesterday said it is!”

Plaza of Cathedral of St. Mary the Assumption.
(Courtesy of Archdiocese of San Francisco YouTube Channel)

A video of the San Francisco Archdiocese’s speech can be accessed on the campaign page aimed at convincing San Francisco Mayor London Breed and the San Francisco Department of Public Health to lift “unfair restrictions.” The petition and video can be accessed here: