Northern Ireland news

Joy as parishioners return to church pews after 15 weeks

Archbishop Eamon Martin wears a face mask during Holy Communion at St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire
By Michael McHugh and Rebecca Black, PA

THE head of the Catholic Church in Ireland hailed a day of joy as worshippers returned to the pews for the first time in 15 weeks.

Archbishop Eamon Martin celebrated the first public Mass in St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh since the coronavirus lockdown began in March.

He paid tribute to healthcare workers who tirelessly served the sick and parishioners who volunteered to carry groceries and other essentials to those living alone.

"The past three-and-a-half months of lockdown marked a time of great uncertainty and anxiety," he said.

"We had to make sacrifices for the common good and to protect life and health."

Numbers able to attend Masses will be "substantially" reduced to enable social distancing, the Primate of All Ireland said.

Every other pew was roped off and empty as Mass for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul was celebrated in Armagh yesterday.

The archbishop also wore a face covering as he distributed communion.

He said: "It is such a joy to gather physically for Mass today, as well as to join virtually with many others who are participating over webcam."

The archbishop added: "Some of our liturgical customs have also been adjusted to take account of health recommendations.

"I appeal to you therefore to be patient and understanding, and to co-operate in helping us fulfil our church guidelines."

While churches were allowed to resume services across Ireland from yesterday, not all took up the opportunity as they work to put social distancing and extra hygiene measures in place.

In the Republic, a limit of 50 has been set on indoor gatherings.

North of the border, individual parishes are managing numbers on a church by church basis and operating a phased return.

First Minister Arlene Foster attended a service at St Macartin's Cathedral in Enniskillen yesterday.

Dean of Clogher Very Rev Kenneth Hall, who is rector of the cathedral, said: "A lot of people do want to gather for worship, and today being St Peter's day, St Peter was the rock on which Christ built his church, and what better day to reopen."

At St Columb's Church in Derry's Waterside, Fr Michael Canny also said he was delighted to see his parishioners return.

"It's been quite an emotional morning but it's good to be back. I think our parishioners will appreciate being able to go to Mass in the chapel," he said.

"But we must maintain our social distance and be aware that there is still a virus out there. We don't want to alarm people but we must be mindful. We cannot drop our guard."

The lifting of more lockdown restrictions also meant elite athletes could train indoors from yesterday and contact sport training resume.

Childminders can also care for the children of four families at one time.

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