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Bishops consider plans to re-open churches

By Ann Marie Foley - 11 May, 2020

“It has been very difficult for us not being able to gather together in our beautiful church buildings. We’ve had to rely on spiritual communion,” said Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh.

COVID-19

Archbishop Eamon Martin has stated that parishes and dioceses have now begun to draw up their plans and “roadmaps” for a return to collective prayer as soon as it is safe to do so.

“It has been very difficult for us not being able to gather together in our beautiful church buildings. We’ve had to rely on spiritual communion. For this I draw strength and inspiration from the words in today’s second reading which speak about our being like ‘living stones’ making up a ‘spiritual building’ and Christ being the cornerstone of that building,” said Archbishop Martin of the Armagh Archdiocese, who is also Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Dromore and Primate of All Ireland.

He recalled hearing, on RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland, an elderly couple who are cocooned stating that the daily webcam broadcast from their local parish is their “lifeline”.

“As the COVID-19 crisis rolls on, we are all beginning to reflect a little deeper, searching for our roadmaps forward, our ‘lifelines’,” he added.

In his homily on Sunday 10 May, he said that many people are growing closer to God through this crisis. Forced seclusion and restricted personal freedoms have reminded everybody that they are not invincible and are far from being in control of everything.

“We are actually quite dependent – on others and on God. Life is precious and fragile; love and family is fundamental to our safety and well-being. Not only is our physical health important, but also our mental, emotional and spiritual health. They all need to be nourished if we are to truly ‘keep body and soul together’,” he said.

St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh. Photo: Brian Shaw via Geograph.ie

Separately, earlier in the week, Bishop Denis Nulty of Kildare and Leighlin Diocese said it is time to reopen churches in the diocese in a responsible manner for a minimum time each day for private prayer.

“The decision to close our church buildings was an act of solidarity and commitment to the national effort required to suppress the COVID-19 virus. I fully recognise the huge sacrifice that closing churches has been for parishioners and priests alike,” he stated in the latest diocesan update on COVID-19.

He added, however, that strict conditions would have to be met before opening the churches. In what he called “an ordered and gentle reopening” which would continue to support the national effort in suppressing COVID-19, each parish would make safety a priority for parishioners and parish staff.

“This gentle reopening of churches responds to the deep need for parishioners, some who have perhaps been cocooned for weeks, to call into their local church,” he stated.

He explained that parishes would need to consider the layout of the church and put in measures to make sure that social distancing and hygiene requirements are met. This would involve signage and hand sanitiser in the church. Other matters for parishes to consider would be the flow through the church with designated doors for entry and exit, as well as leaving doors open to minimise touching. The cleaning of the church, and who would do it, would also have to be considered so that all surfaces would be cleaned regularly.

He added that due to requests from parishioners for new ways to support their local parish and the diocese financially, an electronic donation facility will be introduced onto the diocesan website. This facility will offer the donor an opportunity to donate to any one of the 56 parishes or particular diocesan collections.

The Irish Government’s plan for the easing of COVID-19 restrictions currently states that churches and places of worship may re-open as of 20 July, and that small social gatherings of family and close friends may be allowed, including small weddings and baptisms. It is anticipated that as of 8 June, slightly larger groups of people will be allowed to attend funerals.

At the time of writing, Prime Minister Boris Johnston was about to release details of how restrictions would be eased in the UK. In Northern Ireland, a plan is expected to be released during the week beginning 11 May 2020.

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