By Ann Marie Foley - 15 April, 2020
People on the streets of Waterford were met with the unusual sight of a man in a white robe carrying a cross last Friday. It was none other than local bishop Alphonsus Cullinan who took to the city’s streets, which have been emptied by COVID-19, at a time when gatherings are not allowed inside churches.
“It was a fitting thing to do on a Good Friday. Most of the churches are closed and you couldn’t have a whole congregation of people so I decided to go out on the streets,” Bishop Cullinan told Catholicireland.net.
He did not announce his plan, and was accompanied by one other person who went ahead of him ringing a bell as the bishop carried the wooden cross around the city.
“Nobody was disrespectful. Certainly, there were people who were indifferent, people who did not know exactly what was going on, but there were people who stopped and blessed themselves and wanted a blessing, and asked me for prayers for personal intentions,” he said.
“It was a very humbling experience for me really. I was glad I did it,” he said.
He said that overall the priests and people of the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore are coping well with the restrictions implemented to combat COVID-19.
There is a lot of ‘virtual’ activity in the diocese, with people and priests organising reflections, holy hours, and rosaries online via web cameras, streaming, and YouTube.
A YouTube video of the bishop carrying his cross has had more than 3,000 hits (viewings) so far. Other Easter services with the bishop are also available on YouTube, and the Easter Vigil has had over 1,200 hits so far and the Easter Sunday Mass more than 1,500.
The bishop told Catholicireland.net that there are all kinds of initiatives to keep in touch and the priests are letting people know that they keep them in their prayers every day. In addition, he is encouraging people to pray in their homes, which he calls “the domestic Church”.
“It is where it all started, in the early church when Christians could not celebrate publicly, they celebrated in the home. I have learned to appreciate more our brothers and sisters in other countries where they are persecuted for their faith right now – in Syria, Iraq, parts of Africa. They can never get to an open church.”
He added that these days are hard for priests who are missing their parishioners and for people who are very upset that they cannot go to Mass and receive communion, but sadly this is not possible.
“It has certainly turned our world upside down, and all the things that we depend on and rely on have been taken away from us. We have to find new ways of being. We have to adapt,” he said.
Fourteen priests, who are normally active in ministry in the diocese, are cocooning, and slightly more are retired and cocooning. In total, there are around 85 priests holding diocesan appointments.
The Diocese of Waterford and Lismore is in the south-east of Ireland and includes Waterford city and county as well as much of South Tipperary and a small portion of Co. Cork. There are 45 parishes and 85 churches in the diocese.