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Fears mass-goers may cross Border over Easter as churches there set to reopen


Catholic bishops in the North announced 'cautious' return to public worship from March 26

Catholic bishops in the North announced 'cautious' return to public worship from March 26

Catholic bishops in the North announced 'cautious' return to public worship from March 26

Frustration with the ongoing closure of churches for public worship may spur some Catholics to cross into Northern Ireland for Easter ceremonies when churches there reopen at the end of the month.

The Catholic bishops in the North yesterday announced “a cautious” return to public worship from March 26, in time for the celebration of Holy Week and Easter at the beginning of April.

Guidelines for Easter liturgies are to be issued to parishes in the North over the coming days. However, south of the Border churches will remain closed for the second Easter in a row.

The divergence on church opening on the two sides of the Border prompted the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin to call for an all-Ireland approach to public worship, in which churches south of the Border operate in line with churches in Northern Ireland.

Speaking to Newstalk’s Hard Shoulder programme on St Patrick’s Day, Archbishop Dermot Farrell called for churches here to be allowed to reopen for public worship when Level 5 restrictions are expected to be eased on April 5.

He also called for more than 10 people to be allowed to attend funerals.

He described the current funeral restrictions as “very cruel and very sad” and explained that there are churches in Dublin with a capacity for 2,500 people in which just 10 people are allowed to attend a family funeral.

In some cases, brothers and sisters of the deceased are not able to attend the service due to the cap on the number of mourners.

“This is tolerable only in the most extreme circumstances, and for the shortest possible period,” Dr Farrell said in his message for St Patrick’s Day, which he delivered at St Patrick’s Church in Dublin’s Ringsend yesterday morning.

The bishops in Northern Ireland voluntarily took the decision to close church doors to public worship at the height of the third wave of the coronavirus after Christmas.

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Their decision to reopen at the end of the month prompted Dr Farrell to warn that this difference on public worship between churches in Northern Ireland and churches in the Republic is “going to cause problems” because five Catholic dioceses straddle the Border.

“We have many parishes that straddle the Border. You are now going to find parishes along the Border where one church is open at one end and another church at the other end is not open,” Dr Farrell explained.

“I am asking that worship be looked at on an all-Ireland basis,” he said.

A spokesperson for the gardaí told the Irish Independent that Covid-19 regulations place certain restrictions on travel outside the home except with reasonable excuse, and that a breach of these travel regulations could incur a €100 fine.

In his message for St Patrick’s Day, Archbishop Farrell also referred to the right to public worship – which is protected by Article 44 of the Constitution.

He said the number who are allowed to worship cannot be “randomly determined as if it were some mathematical formula”. "This is about people: the protection of people’s health, and the fostering of people’s wellbeing.”

He said that while a balance must be struck, easing restrictions on worship has “a better-founded statutory claim than other activities which may be pressed by powerful commercial interests”.

He added that, whenever public worship was permitted, Catholic parishes have been diligent in operating within guidelines, with great commitment by staff and volunteers to stewarding, sanitising and managing attendance.

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