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Church leaders urge re-opening of places of worship for individual prayer

The Northern Ireland Executive is set to publish its pathway to recovery this week.

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Fr Paddy McCafferty has resumed hearing confessions while observing social distancing through the gates of Corpus Christi Church in Ballymurphy, West Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)

Fr Paddy McCafferty has resumed hearing confessions while observing social distancing through the gates of Corpus Christi Church in Ballymurphy, West Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)

Fr Paddy McCafferty has resumed hearing confessions while observing social distancing through the gates of Corpus Christi Church in Ballymurphy, West Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)

Leaders of the main churches in Northern Ireland have urged the re-opening of places of worship for individual private prayer.

Last week, agriculture minister Edwin Poots suggested that churches and garden centres could re-open during a gradual easing of coronavirus restrictions.

The executive is set to publish its pathway to recovery this week following more than a month of lockdown.

Leaders of the Church of Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland, Catholic Church, Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Irish Council of Churches discussed the matter in a video conference on Friday.

In a joint statement they accepted it would “not be appropriate” at this time for traditional weekly gatherings.

As we enter into the second full month of this emergency on our island, we urge everyone to remain resolute and vigilant, encouraging one another on, so that we can come through this together

“While we all look forward to the day when we can again gather together for collective worship in our churches, we accept that at this time it would not be appropriate to consider a full return to such gatherings, apart from the limited number of people who are able to meet for funeral services,” they said.

“At this time, we are not calling on the Northern Ireland Executive to remove the current general restrictions on gathering together for church services, but we are asking that the issue is kept under regular review, so that when it is safe to do so there can be an easing of these restrictions.”

However they said individual visits to church buildings for private prayer is a “different and separate matter”, and could be done safely.

“Where the medical and scientific advice indicates that this limited step is possible, we would urge the executive to consider easing this particular restriction sooner rather than later,” the statement said.

They concluded by urging people to support each other, saying: “Over the past number of weeks, we have seen the vast majority of the people embracing these challenging, but very necessary, restrictions – working together for the benefit and good of all.

“We give thanks for this demonstration of love and concern for all in our community. As we enter into the second full month of this emergency on our island, we urge everyone to remain resolute and vigilant, encouraging one another on, so that we can come through this together.”

PA