By Ann Marie Foley - 24 March, 2020
“I may be looking out at empty pews, but in my mind’s eye and with the eyes of my heart, I can see you in your living rooms, in nursing homes, hospital wards or perhaps driving in your cars, all linked spiritually in the ‘family of families’ that is the Church,” said Archbishop Eamon Martin.
Everyone is facing the challenge of how to maintain spiritual “closeness”, compassion and solidarity while at the same time practising social distancing, Archbishop Eamon Martin has stated.
In his homily for Mass on Sunday (22 March 2020) at the Cathedral of Saints Patrick and Colman, Newry, the Archbishop of Armagh stated: “This Lent, like no other, we are learning the meaning of self-sacrifice and self-denial for the greater good. Our health workers are pleading with us to take the restrictions seriously, to maintain hand-washing and good hygiene, not just to protect ourselves, but so that we can delay and lessen the surge in infections and thereby contribute positively to the common good.”
He said that there is spiritual communion among Catholics. “As Church during this time we continue to gather for prayer – no longer physically in most cases – but linked over the internet as a congregation in spiritual communion with one another,” he said.
He recalled that after Mass on Saint Patrick’s Day, which was broadcast via the webcam in the cathedral in Armagh, he received messages from Singapore, Washington and Madrid, from Coalisland, Buncrana and London. People told him that they were pleased to be able to share in the sacrifice of the Mass.
“I may be looking out at empty pews, but in my mind’s eye and with the eyes of my heart, I can see you in your living rooms, in nursing homes, hospital wards or perhaps driving in your cars, all linked spiritually in the ‘family of families’ that is the Church,” he said.
He expressed spiritual closeness to those who are sick, who have already contracted the Covid-19 virus, and those who have chosen to self-isolate as a precaution to protect others. He also expressed his prayerful solidarity with those who have been laid off from work or who have taken cuts in hours and pay, and businesses that have had to shut down. He welcomed government grants and financial packages to offset the impact of the crisis, and flexibility from lenders, private landlords and financiers on loan repayments, mortgages and outstanding debts.
“Many people in our society simply live from week to week and whilst this crisis is difficult for most – it can present seemingly impossible burdens for some,” he added.
He highlighted how the Church has called all to help those “on the margins”, and to speak out on behalf of the most marginalised. He questioned what Covid-19 will mean for the homeless who need to self-isolate, and what impact the coronavirus will have on those in refugee camps or hostels. The restrictions on normal fundraising for charities will mean that they struggle at a time when they are needed most.
He appealed for people “to support your local charities and parishes via online or postal donations so that their essential work can continue”. He said that it is heart-warming to see a large number of people, including many young people, who have already volunteered their help.
He also expressed his appreciation of the efforts of “priests, hospital chaplains, religious and pastoral workers, many of whom are vulnerable themselves, and who are wrapping a blanket of prayer and compassion around us during these trying times – keeping in touch with the sick, the elderly and those living alone, praying or reading God’s Word with them over the phone or online, and ensuring continuity of prayer, care and pastoral services.”
He concluded by commenting on the “strange quietness” that has descended in communities, town centres and in homes and families. “I want to assure you that the family of God that is the Church continues to gather around you, the Church continues to accompany you along this valley of darkness and fear, with prayer, consolation and hope,” he concluded.
Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh, apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Dromore and Primate of All Ireland, and he was speaking at the Laetare Sunday/Mother’s Day Mass.