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Mary Kelly: Our Covid rates make anti-vaccine comments dangerous

The heart-breaking funeral of Derry mother of four Samantha Willis was a tragic and potent reminder of the dangers of Covid-19. She died just days after giving birth to her fourth child Eviegrace, and had not received the Covid-19 vaccine. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

WE did our best to pass on the faith. We sent our children to Catholic schools, we brought them to Mass, put them through First Communion and Confirmation, dragged them unwillingly to Catholic churches in far-off holiday spots for foreign Masses, but it didn't work.

Last week, when they came with us to their granny's month's mind Mass, it was all too clear that it would never work.

The second reading from St Paul to the Ephesians wasn't a good start: "Wives should regard their husbands as they regard the Lord, since as Christ is head of the Church and saves the whole body, so is a husband the head of his wife; and as the Church submits to Christ, so should wives to their husbands, in everything."

My daughter's eyes were rolling out of her head, but it got worse when the holiday relief priest began his sermon.

It was the first time I had seen a priest read from his mobile phone propped up on the lectern. But that's where modernity began and ended.

He made reference to the gospel reading of John, when some followers of Jesus were complaining about his "intolerable language". This led to his critique of the mistake people had made when they voted to allow same-sex marriages in defiance of Church teaching. They were disobeying God's law, he said.

My children were gasping in disbelief by this stage. One middle-aged woman walked out, and had it not been a Mass for my mother, I would have joined her. Particularly since mum was a vocal supporter of gay rights who wouldn't miss the Belfast Pride parade.

The priest went on about the importance of "catechising" the next generation to follow the teachings of Christ so that the faith continued down the generations.

I looked around the congregation. Apart from my children who were there to honour their granny, there was no-one present under the age of 40.

No doubt this priest was relaying the Church's official position which sees homosexuality as "deviant behaviour". But they must be aware that the laity mostly take a more relaxed view.

They clearly ignore the official position on contraception, formulated by celibate men, and if their gay children want to marry the person they love, they can see no reason to object.

Many of us plod on with an à la carte attitude to a lot of the teachings we were brought up with and now ignore. Younger people take a less nuanced view and see it as hypocrisy.

The oldest institution in the western world sees no need to keep up with the times. But should it not be relevant to people's lives and experience now?

Pope Francis is no liberal. He opposes marriage for gay people, but he has spoken in favour of civil unions and says they are entitled to family life.

He also said, "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?"

Who indeed.

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I have never witnessed a more heartbreaking scene than the Requiem Mass for 35-year-old Samantha Willis at which her baby daughter Eviegrace was baptised. The mother of four died from Covid and had not been vaccinated.

Her brave husband Josh urged others on social media to get their jabs so that they don't have to endure the pain he is suffering: "As I write this I am laying beside her, she is 35, unvaccinated and in a coffin. Let that sink in."

A recent study found 99 per cent of pregnant women admitted to hospital with Covid-19 were unvaccinated. Many women are naturally concerned at the effect it might have on their unborn child. But the data shows they are more at risk from the virus itself.

The day after Samantha Willis's family gathered in Derry for her funeral, a retired GP in the same city was suspended for her comments about "malevolent" vaccines and claiming young people were being coerced, bribed or bullied into getting the jab.

Dr Anne McCloskey, a former Aontú councillor, came out of retirement at the start of the pandemic to help the overwhelmed health service.

She is obviously entitled to hold views contrary to mainstream thinking, or indeed common sense. But when Northern Ireland now has the worst Covid death rate in the developed world, and the lowest vaccine uptake in the UK, such comments from a medical professional are downright dangerous.

If she really wants to help the health service, she should retire from Facebook.

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