A group of Belgian Catholics is demanding the resumption of public worship in their country.

They expressed their views in a petition sent to the Belgian Bishops’ Conference and the Vatican ambassador on Thursday.

In it, the so-called ‘Committee of Concerned Catholics’ asks that the Church returns to the situation before the current Belgian lockdown, when a limited number of people was still allowed to attend Mass, subject to health and safety measures. They refer to the situation in the Netherlands and France where public liturgies are still permitted. Within days, the online petition was signed by 500 people, according to the committee.

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When asked by the Dutch Catholic newspaper Katholiek Nieuwsblad if the Belgian bishops will comply with this request, spokesman Geert De Kerpel said the Bishops’ Conference is of course also looking forward to the resumption of public worship, but he emphasized that the decision to suspend all public worship until at least December 13 was taken by the Belgian government.

“We respect and understand the faithful who want to make public worship possible again, but we fully comply with what the government deems necessary,” De Kerpel said.

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“In Belgium, more than 15,000 people have already died from the coronavirus,” De Kerpel added. “Many people still die from it every day. These are much greater numbers compared to any other ‘disaster.’ Of course, I myself would also rather attend Mass together. But in the context of the current situation, we want to show maximum solidarity with the government.”

To bring the number of reported cases of COVID-19 down, the Belgian government has issued several restrictions. This means, for example, that all non-essential shops in the country are closed, as well as bars and restaurants. People have to work from home and an overnight curfew has been put in place.

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During the first lockdown earlier this year, a group of Belgian Catholics filed a lawsuit to get the closed churches to reopen. They lost their case, partly because at that time the lifting of restrictions was already scheduled.

“Ultimately, it is the government that decides which COVID regulations to put in place,” said De Kerpel. “I don’t expect the government to change its opinion at the moment.”

What the celebration of Christmas in Belgium will be like is still unknown, added De Kerpel. But even if public worship is resumed, things will be very different compared to last year.

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“Last year there were more than 550,000 Catholics who attended Christmas Mass. I don’t know how we could make this happen if only thirty people are allowed to attend one Mass. Even if the maximum number of people is allowed in a church building, physical distancing taken into account, a large group of people will still miss out.”

The Belgian churches are still open for private visits for silent prayer or to light a candle. De Kerpel also points out people have the option of praying at home.

“There’s always the possibility of Church at home. And why not knock on your neighbor’s door to ask if they need your help in any way. In the end, Christmas is also a feast of solidarity,” he said.

This news article was translated for Crux by Susanne Kurstjens-van den Berk.