Down and Connor Bishop Noel Treanor: Suspending funerals 'a sacrifice made so that others may live'
LAST week, I took the decision to suspend public funeral ceremonies in the churches of the Diocese of Down and Connor and to advise strongly that wakes be confined to members of the immediate family.
For the duration of this health emergency, I am asking the people of the diocese to make a sacrifice – to simplify our funeral traditions and replace them with a shorter but dignified ceremony held at the graveside.
Let me explain the reasons that brought me to this difficult decision after great struggle and with much reluctance.
Firstly, this decision was taken in order to keep the people of the diocese and wider society safe. The best scientific and medical judgement is that the only way to prevent the disastrous spread of Covid-19 is to stay at home. This is essential for public safety.
Secondly, this decision was taken to protect the elderly and the vulnerable who are most in danger because of Covid-19. This decision is motivated by the vulnerability of children whose immune system is compromised and whose parents are sick with worry.
Thirdly, this decision was taken in recognition of all public health advice. We are all called to do what is in our power to reduce the risk to the National Health Service by reducing the risk of people going outside the home and mixing in groups.
Put simply: as a bishop, and as a citizen in a public position, decisions need to be taken to avoid exposing anyone to risk by continuing with practices which involve large numbers of people gathering and being close to each other. These practices are dangerous in passing on the Covid-19 virus.
This has been a very hard decision to make. However, the medical evidence is clear and the scientific data is overwhelming. It is a temporary decision and will come to an end when this unprecedented health emergency is over.
In making this decision, my heart has felt the weight of the sacrifice that will be required even for a short time from people at their most vulnerable moment. I am asking all of us, as citizens and people of faith to make this sacrifice for the common good of all. It is a sacrifice made so that others may live.
As a priest and bishop, I have attended and celebrated many funerals across Ireland. And I am convinced that few experiences of religion give such consolation as the rituals that accompany the death of a loved one.
On a human level, the power of gathering; the familiar phrases – “I’m sorry for your trouble”; the supporting presence of neighbours; and the acts of hospitality that often surround the wake, show the care a community extends.
The days of waking and the public funeral enfold families with love, begin healing and in doing so, tell us what we value most. They strengthen the bonds that make society.
I have felt this support indeed within my own family. We will never cease to be grateful for the power of our religious and cultural traditions when we lost our own parents.
To those who will find this decision difficult, I want to say: you are not being abandoned. Last week, I conducted a service of prayer and intercession within the Mater, the hospital chosen to be dedicated to Covid-19 care. I salute the courage and dedication of the professionals I met there. Priests in parishes and chaplains in hospitals will continue to bring consolation and the sacraments to families in grief. They will continue to provide the ongoing support of prayer and ritual at the time of loss.
When this emergency is over and the Covid-19 has been brought under control by the skill and dedication of medical and public health professionals, I, along with the priests of the diocese, undertake to do all in our power to heal the pain of the sacrifice I am asking you to make in the difficult months ahead of us all.