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Church leaders say cemetery policy shift 'the compassionate thing to do'

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Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe the Rt Rev Andrew Forster described the policy shift as "compassionate"

Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe the Rt Rev Andrew Forster described the policy shift as "compassionate"

Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe the Rt Rev Andrew Forster described the policy shift as "compassionate"

Church leaders have given a warm welcome to the Executive's decision to reopen local cemeteries.

Criticism had been building up over the past week, with statements from leading clergy calling into question the rationale for the closures.

On Friday Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe the Rt Rev Andrew Forster described the policy shift as "compassionate".

On Thursday both he and Catholic Bishop of Derry Dr Donal McKeown had hit out at the restrictions placed on visits to graves during the coronavirus lockdown.

Dr McKeown's remarks sparked a response from Sinn Fein Finance Minister Conor Murphy, who described the bishop's comments as "unfortunate".

Bishop Forster welcomed the decision, but said the battle against the virus was far from won.

"This was a compassionate response on the part of our political leaders and I commend them for that," he said.

"I hope that the reopening of cemeteries will be of some comfort to those affected by their closure.

"There is a responsibility now on those of us who visit the graves of loved ones to comply with the revised guidelines and observe social distancing measures to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus in the community. The battle against the coronavirus is far from won, as we are reminded day and daily, so I pray God's counsel for all our political and civic leaders as they make difficult decisions in an effort to protect lives and preserve health."

A spokesman for Bishop McKeown also welcomed the reopening decision, and reminded people planning to visit cemeteries to respect the social distancing guidelines.

Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland Rt Rev Dr William Henry said the Executive's decision would bring comfort to many.

"For many reasons this is a sensible and compassionate response to an important pastoral and human need, especially when not everyone who mourns a loved one has been able to attend their funeral as a result of current Government restrictions.

"Visiting afterwards, therefore, may be the first occasion they are able to make a personal response at a time of bereavement. Opening graveyards makes this possible.

"Today's decision will bring much comfort to many, not just those who are grieving the loss of a loved one who passed away recently, but also those who find comfort in being close to those they miss.

"We recognise that appropriate access to burial grounds must be done in a way that ensures appropriate social distancing, and which safeguards those who work there, along with those who have come to visit.

"As we continue to pray for those in authority who have to make these important decisions, we also pray for those who mourn that they will know the Lord's comfort."

Belfast Telegraph