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Religious leaders call limited reopening for Northern Ireland's churches a sign of hope

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Presbyterian Moderator William Henry

Presbyterian Moderator William Henry

Catholic Primate of Ireland Eamon Martin

Catholic Primate of Ireland Eamon Martin

Church of Ireland Primate John McDowell

Church of Ireland Primate John McDowell

Presbyterian Moderator William Henry

Religious leaders have welcomed the announcement that churches can reopen for private prayer as lockdown restrictions ease.

Drive-in services will also be permitted, providing social distancing is maintained and those attending do not get out of their cars.

The leaders of the Church of Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland, Catholic Church, Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Irish Council of Churches all expressed their appreciation for the careful preparation that preceded the announcement, which included consultation with them.

In a joint statement the Churches said: "The announcement that we are moving to Step 1 of the pathway is an important and much-needed sign of hope.

"We welcome the cautious approach adopted by the Executive, which continues to prioritise the protection of health and wellbeing, with particular emphasis on those who are most vulnerable.

"We appreciate the recognition in this recovery plan of the importance of the local church, and public worship, in the lives of many people. There is a strong desire to increase the level of pastoral contact where that can be done safely.

"In particular, we are keen to respond to the appeals from those who find great comfort in visiting their church for private prayer, from couples who are anxious that they can proceed with their marriage ceremony and from parents who wish to have their child baptised.

"We are conscious that the Christian call to be good neighbours is a call to civic responsibility in the protection of public health. Partnership across all sectors of society, in solidarity with the most vulnerable, will be critical to minimising the threat of Covid-19.

"In our churches we are currently undertaking risk assessments and putting in place response plans that reflect the unique circumstances of each local context and will be sustainable in the long-term."

A letter of welcome signed by Rt Rev Dr William Henry, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; Most Rev Eamon Martin, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland; Most Rev John McDowell, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland; Rev Sam McGuffin, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, and Very Rev Dr Ivan Patterson, President of the Irish Council of Churches, was delivered to the Executive yesterday afternoon.

"One of the signs of hope to emerge has been the way communities have pulled together in support of their most vulnerable members," the Church leaders said.

"That same spirit needs to shape a vision for recovery that leaves no one behind."

Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor said the reopening of churches for private prayers may vary from place to place.

"This will be a tremendous consolation to all people of faith, particularly those who are grieving," he commented.

"Each church will open only when it is safe to do so and this may vary from place to place.

"The support and patience of parishioners while these measures are put in place is greatly appreciated.

"Organised gatherings for prayer or devotions are not permitted at this stage, and the public celebration of Mass and the other sacraments remain suspended."

Belfast Telegraph