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Churches praise decision to permit the resumption of religious services in the Northern Ireland

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Archbishop Eamon Martin

Archbishop Eamon Martin

Archbishop Eamon Martin

Church leaders on Thursday night welcomed the Executive's announcement that worshippers should be back in the pews from June 29, as long as the coronavirus infection rate - the R-number - remains below 1.

The decision comes after Church and faith leaders met the First and Deputy First Ministers earlier this week, and was announced at Thursday's Stormont Press briefing.

During lockdown churches became creative in their use of webcams and social media. And while they have been open recently for private prayer, regulations preventing many weddings and restrictions on funerals have proved a difficult cross to bear.

All-Ireland Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin said much work had already been going on to make churches safe for worship.

"I expect that we will be beginning in a cautious way at first, and there will be a need for ongoing patience and careful monitoring of the situation," he said.

I commend parishes for reaching out to parishioners in very difficult circumstances during the lockdown, which included the broadcasting of Mass and other prayer opportunities by webcam Archbishop Eamon Martin, All-Ireland Catholic Primate

"In recent days, having spoken to priests across the dioceses of Armagh and Dromore, it is clear to me that there is a strong desire from our people and priests to be able to celebrate the Eucharist and have access to the other sacraments, especially baptism, marriage and reconciliation.

"I commend parishes for reaching out to parishioners in very difficult circumstances during the lockdown, which included the broadcasting of Mass and other prayer opportunities by webcam.

"Since March we have also been alert to God's presence in the lonely and the suffering. Sadly the pandemic has brought great hardship to many families whose loved ones have died because of the virus. In a lot of cases it was not possible for family members to be by their side, or to be present at their funeral.

As we see more areas of community life gradually emerging from the worst impacts of Covid-19, this announcement will be appreciated across the denomination Rev Trevor Gribben, general secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland

"God knows our grief and how much we need strength, courage, consolation and comfort at this time."

Rev Trevor Gribben, general secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, also welcomed the news.

"We are delighted to have reached this point and welcome today's indicative announcement that gathering for church services can now resume, albeit with certain restrictions in place," he said.

"Back in March it was with genuine sadness that we had to close our churches, one of the many unprecedented national restrictions put in place to keep us all safe. As we see more areas of community life gradually emerging from the worst impacts of Covid-19, this announcement will be appreciated across the denomination."

A Church of Ireland spokesperson said "We join with other Churches in welcoming the announcements today which will allow us to make a start on making our church buildings safe to resume public worship."

It's understood that the Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride is to meet faith leaders on June 25 to consider how funerals, weddings, christenings and other celebrations may be conducted.

Belfast Telegraph