Northern Ireland news

Appeal for young Catholics to help churches reopen

Fr Eugene O'Neill and Fr Tony McAleese making the preparations for the resumption of private prayer at St Patrick's Church in Donegall Street, Belfast last month. Parishes are now preparing for the return of public Mass. Picture by Mal McCann

ARCHBISHOP of Armagh Eamon Martin has appealed for younger parishioners to volunteer for new cleaning and stewarding duties as Catholic parishes prepare for the return of public Mass.

Catholic bishops are to publish guidelines this week on the social distancing and hygiene measures their churches will need to adopt if they are to reopen safely as Covid-19 restrictions are eased.

The bishops were already due to meet via video conference from today to finalise a 'national framework document' when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced on Friday that places of worship in the Republic could reopen from June 29.

No date has yet been proposed by the Stormont Executive, which would suggest that the northern faithful face a longer wait for their churches to resume.

Of all Ireland's main denominations, the Catholic Church has been the most public about its desire for a return to worship.

Dr Martin said yesterday that congregations will need to be "patient and understanding, and to cooperate in helping us fulfil our Church guidelines".

"Over the next few weeks our parishes will prepare for the reopening of churches to public worship," he said.

"We realise that this will happen slowly and tentatively at first."

Parishes that wish to reopen will have to show that they can do so safely, including by demonstrating that they can keep their churches clean and manage physical distancing among considerably reduced congregations.

"I also call on the younger members of our parishes to step forward in helping us manage the transition back to full parish life and celebration of the sacraments," said Dr Martin.

"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 of Armagh Eamon Martin. Picture by Mark Marlow

Dr Martin noted that some priests and parishioners may not yet return to church.

"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," he said.

"Some of our priests are cocooning and will be unable, at first, to provide their usual services and ministry."

Places of worship across Ireland were closed for collective worship in the middle of March as part of the social distancing measures introduced to slow the spread of coronavirus.

"Like everyone, I am so grateful and thank God for our healthcare workers and their backup teams who have tirelessly and selflessly served us, and witnessed so powerfully to the tenderness and compassion of God," Dr Martin said.

"We are deeply conscious that the virus has 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 we would have wanted to provide for them."

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