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“Isolation alone will bring challenges” Bishop Leahy warns

By Sarah Mac Donald - 14 March, 2020

Cancellation of Masses and directives on funerals are necessary as the Church puts its shoulder behind the national effort to protect the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick has said that care for one another, solidarity, creativity and prayer will guide people through the “unprecedent challenge” of Coronavirus.

In a statement confirming that all Sunday Masses across the Diocese of Limerick will be cancelled for the next three Sundays or until further notice beyond that, Bishop Leahy said that the measure is necessary as the Church puts its shoulder behind the national effort to protect the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

A range of other measures announced by the Irish Bishops Conference on Thursday will also apply in Limerick diocese.

Bishop Leahy said everyone has a role to play in this national effort and that “by working together we can and will overcome this unchartered modern-day territory”.

He noted that, “These are worrying and stressful times for everyone. They are so especially for the elderly, for those who are vulnerable to the virus due to underlying conditions, for all those who care dearly for these people and also for the healthcare workers who are so courageously out there on the frontline.”

Acknowledging that the measures undertaken to halt the spread of the virus will lead to disruption and loss, Dr Leahy added, “But if we stick together, if we observe the measures outlined yesterday, we will minimise that loss.”

Regarding the cancellation of Sunday Mass he said, “I appreciate that the measures we have taken around Sunday Mass will be difficult for many people. However, it’s important to remember what the Church calls ‘spiritual communion’, that we can be united spiritually with one another wherever we are through our prayer, Christian love and keeping hope alive. We can be spiritually united with the Mass. Thankfully, through technology, there are options online for people to get their Mass at home. Some parishes have webcam or radio facilities.”

Bishop Leahy will himself celebrate the 12 noon Mass on each Sunday at the Cathedral and people can tune into that on St John’s Cathedral webcam: https://www.churchservices.tv/limerickcathedral, and they can also tune into the Saturday evening Mass at 6pm or the Sunday Masses at 10:30am at St John’s via the webcam.

The Bishop of Limerick said he was conscious that it might be hard for some to get their head around certain decisions such as the cancellation of Sunday Mass and the challenges around funerals.

“This is going to be particularly sensitive for bereaved families, of course, and we all have a duty to support them through this time but in a different way. In the current circumstances, we cannot all attend funerals but can find ways to express our condolences through a written note, a text message, a WhatsApp personal video perhaps or across other platforms.”

This is to help lessen the risk of the spreading the disease, particularly among older citizens and those who are unwell.

“I am conscious, too, of the extremely difficult time that business faces and I would ask that we support them as much as we can while still, of course, observing the HSE guidelines.”

Bishop Leahy highlighted how isolation alone brings challenges.

“We will have more time with family arising from this and that is as a positive. Parents will get to spend more time with their children, siblings with each other but there will also be challenges with isolation. We will need to know how to be creative. People will find themselves in self-isolation, families suddenly together all day without much previous planning for long periods of time, people will find their work and social patterns totally disrupted. The elderly will be suffering anxiety, loneliness and this, in particular, needs to very closely managed and they must be supported.”

The Bishop said all of this would require creativity in how to keep contact through e-mail, WhatsApp, Skype.
Elsewhere in his statement, Dr Leahy said it was “very important” that people watch how they view or speak of those who contract the virus. “It’s possible for any one of us to contract it and our language must be one of support for these people and not of a kind that would further isolate them.”

Expressing solidarity with healthcare workers at this time, Bishop Leahy said they are “offering us a wonderful selfless service and need our prayer and support. Let’s be creative in the ways we send them messages of encouragement and thanks”.

He also expressed his solidarity with priests, “for whom this is also a very difficult time as they struggle with trying and wanting to meet their pastoral requirements and yet wanting to meet the government measures as laid down yesterday”.

“They will have very sensitive situations to deal with throughout this period, not least funerals but also First Friday calls to the elderly or sick and other pastoral requirements. I am conscious of the stress that this will place on our priests, on the faithful and on parishes. It will require patience, care and understanding as we meet this new normal, for however long it lasts.”

Describing it as a time for us to come together as a community, he said that for the faithful it was a time for prayer.

“It might also be a time to check out catholic websites that provide material for prayer and reflection,” Bishop Leahy said and highlighted websites include the Jesuit sacred space (www.sacredspace.ie) or Limerick Diocese’s own Facebook (www.facebook.com/dioceseoflimerick) or the Bishops Conference website (www.catholicbishops.ie) and more.

To find live streams of Masses and Services from a wide variety of churches in Ireland and the UK see: http://churchservices.tv

In his statement on Friday, Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly of Cashel and Emly said, “While the cancellation of all Masses is regrettable, it communicates to our parish communities the serious impact of Covid-19.”

He highlighted that the obligation to be physically present at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days (including St Patrick’s Day) is suspended for everybody until further notice.

“Priests will continue to remember the needs of parishioners at Mass celebrated privately,” the Archbishop said and added that the faithful are encouraged to pray “for the sick, for those who are caring for the sick and for all who are working so hard to protect us”.

“All families are encouraged to celebrate Sunday in a prayerful and meaningful manner at home. I ask that all modern means of communication – radio, webcam etc. be used to assist our communities to join spiritually in the celebration of Mass. May we care for each other with kindness and patience in every possible way.”

Elsewhere, the Moderator or the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rt Rev Dr William Henry, and the Clerk of the General Assembly, Rev Trevor Gribben, have written to PCI ministers in the Republic stressing that it is vital that they follow the advice and comply with the specific recommendations given by the HSE.

“In relation to the Taoiseach’s guidance that indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor gatherings of more than 500 should not take place, we emphasised the need for this to be followed in all circumstances,” Mr Gribben said.

The letter concluded by saying, “This is a rapidly changing situation. It is therefore important to stress that congregations should follow all public health guidance provided by state authorities. Please keep up to date with government guidance at hse.ie, hpse.ie and gov.ie.”

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