“All of us are struck and full of admiration at the way parishes have been working creatively in reaching out during this complex lockdown situation.
On the other hand, I realise how we need to move beyond the virtual. Jesus preached the Good News and he also gathered together a community of disciples. The readings in the post-Easter daily Masses were all about how the early faith communities were built up, even in the face of hostility and rejection.
There is a clear recognition by believers and indeed many non-believers alike that in the process of healing and grieving, as we journey through these difficult times, faith and spiritual experience constitute an important contribution in sustaining people’s personal and mental wellbeing.
As Christians, we suffer through not being able to celebrate our faith through public worship. As one Bishop noted in these days, “The Sacraments we miss are actions of the Christian community. We celebrate them together in Church”.
There is a sense in which this void is especially experienced by priests. Priests share in the anxiousness of all believers and in addition they find themselves unable to carry out to the full what is most essential in their calling. Priests are called to break the bread of the Scriptures and of the Body and Blood of the Lord in nourishing and being nourished by the Christian communities entrusted to their ministry. As Archbishop, I experience that void in a deep way.
There is a longing by believers to be able to return to public worship and towards building up Christian communities.
Over the past weeks, all over Ireland, parishes have begun working on plans to be ready to open their Churches as soon as it is safe to do so. I thank those Dublin parishes who responded to my request for developing a plan to be ready to open Churches at the appropriate moment, while respecting social distancing and public hygiene.
The Irish Bishops pooled suggestions from each diocese and drew up a first Draft Framework document. The Standing Committee of the Conference examined this Framework today and has now moved towards producing a shorter and sharper document, with checklists to enable parishes to monitor where they are on the path forward. That should be available in the next days.
From the outset, the Government Roadmap has noted that it will be constantly evaluating progress in reopening society and it is important that we as Church are ready to respond to any change in the current proposed timescale.
We have to examine how our desires can be measured within the overall public health situation. It is not that we place public health measures above our spiritual mission. I remind parishes of the words of Pope Francis when he greeted of the opening of Churches in Italy. “but please, let us proceed respecting the norms, the prescriptions we are given to safeguard the health of each individual and the people”.
I also draw attention to the comments of the Archbishop of Boston as Churches in his diocese were preparing to “proceed patiently and with caution” towards reopening for public worship, “No matter what the start date, no parish should have Mass unless they can do it safely”.
In the meantime, once again I thank all those who have been sustaining and supporting the ministry of the Church in these times. You have been making a unique contribution to building up the Church and the Lord will surely work to ensure that your efforts bear fruit in ways that we do not yet imagine.” ENDS