Friday, 13 March 2020: Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy has said that care for one another, solidarity, creativity and prayer will guide us through the unprecedent challenge of modern times that the Coronavirus is.
Confirming that all Sunday Masses across the diocese will be cancelled for the next three Sundays or until further notice beyond that, Bishop Leahy said that the measure is necessary as the Church puts its shoulder behind the national effort to protect the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
In addition to the cancellation of Sunday Masses in parishes, Bishop Leahy also confirmed that a range of other measures announced by the Irish Bishops Conference yesterday would apply to the diocese of Limerick. They are:
- All non-essential pastoral gatherings and meetings, such as formation gatherings, retreats and seminars are cancelled
- All Confirmations are postponed until further notice
- Every Catholic is entitled to a dignified Christian burial. Attendance at Funeral services and Masses should be limited to close relatives and must not exceed 100 attendees within the Church building
- Similarly, Church weddings and baptisms may be celebrated on condition that the attendance in Church does not exceed 100 people
Bishop Leahy, who said that the situation will be monitored on an ongoing basis and amended as appropriate, stated that everyone has a role to play in this national effort and that by working together we can and will overcome this unchartered modern-day territory.
“These are worrying and stressful times for everyone. They are so especially for the elderly, for those who are vulnerable to the virus due to underlying conditions, for all those who care dearly for these people and also for the healthcare workers who are so courageously out there on the frontline.
“As a nation we have met and got beyond challenges before but have done so with some pain and sacrifice. There will be pain and sacrifice in this instance too. There will be disruption and, sadly, there will be loss. But if we stick together, if we observe the measures outlined yesterday, we will minimise that loss.
“We will achieve this through applying the proper care, by sticking together in solidarity with those we are trying to protect, by applying the discipline that’s needed now, by being creative in helping one another in this time of stress and, indeed, by prayer.”
Regarding the cancellation of Sunday Mass, he said: “I appreciate that the measures we have taken around Sunday Mass will be difficult for many people. However, it’s important to remember what the Church calls ‘spiritual communion’, that we can be united spiritually with one another wherever we are through our prayer, Christian love and keeping hope alive. We can be spiritually united with the Mass. Thankfully, through technology, there are options online for people to get their Mass at home. Some parishes have webcam or radio facilities.”
Bishop Leahy will himself celebrate the 12 noon Mass each Sunday at the Cathedral and people can tune into that on the St. John’s Cathedral webcam https://www.churchservices.tv/limerickcathedral, as they can the Saturday evening Mass at 6p.m. or the Sunday Masses at 10:30a.m. at St. John’s.
“I am conscious that it might be hard for some to get their head around certain decisions such as the cancellation of Sunday Mass and the challenges around funerals. This is going to be particularly sensitive for bereaved families, of course, and we all have a duty to support them through this time but in a different way. In the current circumstances, we cannot all attend funerals but can find ways to express our condolences through a written note, a text message, a WhatsApp personal video perhaps or across other platforms.
“All of this is something that must be lived as part of the wider sacrifice for this new and hopefully short-term norm. It is to help lessen the risk of the spreading the disease, particularly among our older citizens and those who are unwell. I am conscious, too, of the extremely difficult time that business faces and I would ask that we support them as much as we can while still, of course, observing the HSE guidelines.”
Bishop Leahy said that isolation alone will bring challenges. “We will have more time with family arising from this and that is as a positive. Parents will get to spend more time with their children, siblings with each other but there will also be challenges with isolation. We will need to know how to be creative. People will find themselves in self-isolation, families suddenly together all day without much previous planning for long periods of time, people will find their work and social patterns totally disrupted. The elderly will be suffering anxiety, loneliness and this, in particular, needs to very closely managed and they must be supported.
“All of this will require creativity in how to keep contact through e-mail, WhatsApp, skype etc. and also creativity in how we organise our personal and family calendar in creative, healthy and supportive activities, tasks and exercise. I believe it is also very important that we watch how we view or speak of those who contract the virus. It’s possible for any one of us to contract it and our language must be one of support for these people and not of a kind that would further isolate them.
“I am very conscious of healthcare workers at this time. They are offering us a wonderful selfless service and need our prayer and support. Let’s be creative in the ways we send them messages of encouragement and thanks. I also think of our priests across the diocese, for whom this is also a very difficult time as they struggle with trying and wanting to meet their pastoral requirements and yet wanting to meet the government measures as laid down yesterday. They will have very sensitive situations to deal with throughout this period, not least funerals but also First Friday calls to the elderly or sick and other pastoral requirements. I am conscious of the stress that this will place on our priests, on the faithful and on parishes. It will require patience, care and understanding as we meet this new normal, for however long it lasts.
“It is a time for us to come together as a community and I know for our faithful it is a time for prayer. It might also be a time to check out catholic websites that provide material for prayer and reflection.”
Such websites include the Jesuit sacred space (www.sacredspace.ie) or the Limerick Diocese’s own Facebook (www.facebook.com/dioceseoflimerick) or the Bishops Conference website (www.catholicbishops.ie) and more.
Bishop Leahy added: “My prayers and thoughts are with everyone across the diocese and beyond that we can unite and overcome and yet look after those most vulnerable. It is our calling on this day and we will meet it with courage and creativity in the light of trust in God.”