Northern Ireland news

Christmas will be "different" for church goers this year

Fr Patrick McCafferty behind the locked gates of Corpus Christi parish church in Ballymurphy earlier this year. Picture by Hugh Russell
Connla Young

CHURCH-GOERS have been warned that Christmas will be “different” this year due to the Covid crisis.

Faith leaders have voiced concern after places of worship were included in tough new lockdown measures due to come into force next week.

All churches will be forced to close their doors for two weeks from Friday.

The only exception will be funerals and weddings - with only 25 people allowed to attend.

South of the border, churches have been closed for public worship since last month, although private prayer is still allowed.

It is thought the restrictions in the north also ban private prayer, although Catholic Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin last night said he was seeking "urgent clarification".

And with places of worship due to reopen again before the annual Christmas celebrations, church-goers have been warned that things this year will be very different.

Traditionally more people attend Mass over the Christmas period. However, this year numbers will be severely restricted.

Fr Patrick McCafferty, who is parish priest at Corpus Christi in west Belfast, said “we will have to listen to the guidance and plan in accordance with it”.

“It definitely will be a different Christmas than we are used to and there will not be packed churches,” he said.

“The rules will have to be adhered to.”

Fr Eddie Magee of the Down and Connor diocese said discussions on how to approach Christmas are ongoing.

He said authorities have “been engaging with the clergy of the diocese and the local pastoral community to look at the various options for the celebration of Christmas in accordance with the advice and guidance from the Public Health Agency".

“As these option become clear they will be communicated to parishes."

Rt Rev Dr David Bruce, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, said he was mindful of the impact of the new regulations on the wider community.

“This is a major pastoral concern for us and our congregations,” he said.

“The suspension of public worship in churches for two weeks, introduced as part of this package of measures, is a cause of significant regret and concern to us.”

Dr Bruce said his Church continues to make representation to authorities on both sides of the border regarding public worship.

He took part in meeting with junior minister Gordon Lyons and other faith leaders yesterday and said they "received assurances that the two-week period of these restrictions is all that is planned, and we have reinforced the strong view to the executive that such measures be limited to this period only".

The President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Rev Dr Tom McKnight, said his church will comply with the regulations.

"We continue to endeavour to remain with those who feel the burden of isolation and in various ways our local churches are reaching out to them by means of phone calls, texts or emails," he said.

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Northern Ireland news