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Younger people asked to help with transition back to full parish life

By Sarah Mac Donald - 08 June, 2020

Archbishop Eamon Martin. Pic: Frank McGrath/Irish Independent

The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland has appealed to younger members of parishes to “step forward” and help the Church manage its transition back to full parish life and the celebration of the sacraments.

In his homily for Trinity Sunday at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh, Archbishop Eamon Martin appealed to congregations to be patient and understanding, and to cooperate in helping parishes fulfil Church guidelines on the return to public worship and sacramental life.

“We will need volunteers to assist with cleaning, stewarding, reading, ministering the Eucharist and other roles and responsibilities which some of our older members may be unable to fulfil at this time,” Archbishop Martin explained.

He stressed that people have a collective responsibility to help keep the virus suppressed by practising physical distancing, good hygiene and by continuing to respect health guidelines on movement and gatherings.

“We are advised that the easing of lockdown is a fragile process and it is only if we all continue to work together that the number of cases can be reduced or kept at a level which is manageable for our frontline health services and carers,” he said.

Paying tribute once again to frontline workers, the Archbishop said he, like everyone, was so grateful and thanked God for healthcare workers and their backup teams who have “tirelessly and selflessly served us, and witnessed so powerfully to the tenderness and compassion of God”.

He also acknowledged that the virus had devastated the economy, destroyed livelihoods and brought untold grief to those families whose loved ones have died, in many cases without the usual physical closeness that they would have wanted.

He said that as parishes prepare for the reopening of churches for public worship, there was a realisation that this will happen “slowly and tentatively at first”.

“Some people may prefer, for a while, to continue to join us virtually from home over webcam, because of their vulnerability or because of nervousness about going out immediately into gatherings.”

Dr Martin also noted that some priests are cocooning and will be unable, at first, to provide their usual services and ministry; and because of recommendations on physical distancing and hygiene, it will be necessary to reduce considerably the number of people who can gather inside church buildings at any one time.

He said a small number of liturgical customs may have to be adjusted to take account of health recommendations.

“As we continue to ease our way out of lockdown and back into what they are calling the ‘new normal’, let us turn, as St Patrick did, to the God of Love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is still so much to be done, and many more sacrifices to make in order to keep Covid-19 suppressed and to chart a recovery back from the calamitous impact that it has had on so many lives and families,” the Archbishop of Armagh said.

Separately, on Trinity Sunday in Derry, Bishop Donal McKeown said that in these strange times, we have discovered that we have lost, at least temporarily, “so many of our little communities”.

“For lots of people their sense of belonging was focused on a hobby, a style of music or a sport’s team – or a Church community. Most of the opportunities to celebrate those identities have vanished or lived in virtual form. And we face the challenge of building and rebuilding our Church communities.”

He paid tribute to the great work that has been done by so many parishes and the provision of online church services which he said were “remarkably popular”.

Belonging and reassurance, especially for the weary and the frightened, are a core part of the Trinity’s message, Bishop McKeown said and added, “Thus, we want to be able to get back to gathering our parish congregations around the Table of the Lord.”

But churches had to balance two values.

“On the one hand, there is the right to practice your faith that is a core value at the heart of most societies. But there are also the responsibilities that come with rights.”

“We know what happens when I insist on my rights, whatever the cost to someone else. Followers of the Holy Trinity look out for the needs of others and not just rights for themselves.”

He said the challenge is to “show that our churches are able to be as safe as any other place where people gather. If we show we can’t be trusted to have consistently good practice, who can blame others for not taking us seriously?”

“If we can’t be seen to deal appropriately with the small numbers that are currently allowed to attend funerals, who will trust us with larger numbers for other services and sacraments?”

Bishop McKeown underlined that there will be an ongoing need for webcams so that those who wish to take part in, for example funeral services, can do so.

“Maintaining limited numbers at church services requires alternative access for people. We cannot complain about large numbers wishing to get inside if we offer no other options to those who desperately want to take some part,” he said.

Live streaming of Masses and Services from churches in Ireland and the UK can be found here: http://churchservices.tv

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