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Sparser church pews in Northern Ireland as some stay away due to coronavirus

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Pope Francis delivers his weekly address to an empty St Peter’s Square

Pope Francis delivers his weekly address to an empty St Peter’s Square

VATICAN MEDIA/AFP via Getty Imag

Pope Francis delivers his weekly address to an empty St Peter’s Square

Sunday church attendances fell in some parts of Northern Ireland yesterday as elderly and vulnerable parishioners opted to remain at home in a bid to halt the coronavirus outbreak.

Religious services have been either cancelled or restricted in the Republic until March 29 in light of official recommendations on reduced gatherings, with some churches on this side of the border choosing to follow suit.

Yesterday in Catholic churches here Masses were being streamed online for those unable to attend.

In the Church of Ireland, services have been continuing as normal as public health guidance regarding gatherings remains unchanged.

On Friday the Church published a list of television services and live streaming options available across the island for those wishing to remain at home.

However, the organisation has also issued decisive hygiene guidelines to its members attending services, including a suspension of the sign of the peace, and clergy administering holy communion being advised to first use hand gel or wash their hands.

A spokesman for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland yesterday said he wasn't aware of any impact on attendances as officials were still "closely monitoring the evolving situation across the island".

But Rev Roy Cooper from the Methodist Church in Ireland said congregation numbers were down at Regent Street in Newtownards, where he presided yesterday.

"Normally there would be around 110 people out on a Sunday morning, but it was down to around 80 and that was mainly due to elderly members choosing to remain at home," he explained.

"At the moment while many of our church organisations such as the Boys' Brigade have cancelled their meetings for the foreseeable future, our services are still scheduled to take place next Sunday.

"However, each jurisdiction will adhere to any espousal by the appropriate health boards and governments," Mr Cooper added.

In Rome yesterday Pope Francis delivered his weekly Sunday blessing to an empty St Peter's Square from inside the Apostolic Library at the Vatican as Italy remained in lockdown over coronavirus.

Belfast Telegraph