SF priest dies of COVID-19, church remains closed on Ash Wednesday

The San Francisco North Beach landmark, Saints Peter & Paul Church remains closed this Ash Wednesday.

The church announced that one of their three priests who contracted COVID-19 has died, saying in a message on the church website:

"We are sorry to say that Fr. Bob Stein passed away early on the morning of February 16. Please pray for the repose of his soul. We certainly will not be able to open the church before February 23 at the earliest."

"When a clergyman who is preaching about life and salvation and hope passes, it becomes most profound," says Michael Pappas, executive director of the SF Interfaith Council.

The church did not say how the priests contracted the virus. But the church on Filbert Street has opened for indoor worship over the past year, defying San Francisco's health orders.

"It's a wake-up call to all of us, that we need to take precautions science is giving to us, to not only protect ourselves but those around us," said Pappas.

Parishioners were advised that nearby St. Francis of Assisi Church was open. Dozens came to celebrate Ash Wednesday indoors.

Earlier this month the U.S. Supreme Court struck down California's health order to allow houses of worship to open at 25% capacity while following COVID safety protocols.

"There is no reason why we shouldn't. As long as we are being safe," said worshipper Luke Shalz.

Oakland's Cathedral of Christ the Light Church limited in-person worship to 325 parishioners, far less than capacity.

UC Berkeley infectious disease specialist Dr. John Swartzberg strongly advises against in-person worship of any faith.

"There are too many people infected. There is too much virus around to take that risk," he said.

"These observances are really metaphors for persevering changing lifestyles. But doing so with hope," said Pappas.