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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Rev. David Carter incenses the bread and the wine before consecration. Because of the Coronavirus Pandemic the last public Mass was offered at the Minor Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, on the Feast of St. Joseph, on March 19, 2020.

The Diocese of Knoxville plans to reopen all parishes to the public on Pentecost, May 30 to 31, after what will be nearly two and a half months since the last public Mass.

Bishop Richard Stika announced the plan Tuesday as Tennessee begins reopening businesses, including restaurants, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"I realize that some businesses and churches may open their doors sooner, but we have 51 parishes and mission churches in our diocese, which covers all of East Tennessee," Stika said in a statement. "I feel it is necessary to carefully review the state, county, and municipal guidelines that have been issued, some as recently as this week."

More than 10,000 people in Tennessee have been infected with the coronavirus and at least 188 people have died. On March 19, the Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul held its last public Mass before taking all services online. The final gathering was a tearful one for many gathered, who said the indefinite closure was trying their faith.

(READ MORE: Catholic priest blesses, encourages Chattanooga's faithful at their homes during coronavirus pandemic)

The reopening of Catholic churches will come weeks after many other organizations in Tennessee will return to operating.

On Tuesday, Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order outlining which businesses could reopen and measures to ensure worker and customer safety. The order said houses of worship were not directed to close and such gatherings could continue, though the governor encouraged faith leaders to continue using online services to share messages.

The scheduled reopening of the region's Catholic churches coincides with Pentecost, the holiday 50 days after Easter and believed to be the day the Holy Spirit descended upon Christians. Stika noted in his statement that the holiday is often seen as the beginning of the church and therefore makes it symbolic to return to services that day.

Church services have increasingly become a point of controversy in Chattanooga as the area deals with the ongoing pandemic. The city is facing three lawsuits alleging First Amendment violations after it temporarily banned drive-in services.

Some local churches have already begun to hold in-person services with some changes — such as masks, gloves and hand sanitizer being available — to try and stop the spread of COVID-19.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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