LEICESTER, United Kingdom – The Catholic bishops of England and Wales are planning for the opening of churches after the end of the coronavirus lockdown.

Churches were closed throughout the UK on March 23 as part of measures to stop the spread of coronavirus.

On April 30, Prime Minister Boris Johnson – who himself had been hospitalized with a life-threatening case of COVID-19 – announced Britain had passed the peak of the coronavirus outbreak and said “we can now see the sunlight and the pasture ahead of us.”

In a letter on behalf of the all the English and Welsh bishops, the five metropolitan archbishops wrote a letter May 1 saying as the government social distancing restrictions are gradually relaxed, “we look forward to opening our churches and resuming our liturgical, spiritual, catechetical and pastoral life step by step.”

“None of us knows, as yet, how or when the lockdown will end. There is likely to be a phased return to travelling and gathering. As a church, we are now planning for this time and our discussions with the statutory public health agencies and Government representatives are ongoing. Together with Catholics across England and Wales we desire the opening of our churches and access to the sacraments. Until then, we are continuing to pray and prepare,” the letter says.

The archbishops’ letter comes the day after Archbishop Leo Cushley of St. Andrews and Edinburgh published a video on Twitter where he revealed the bishops of Scotland – which has a separate bishops’ conference – are in their own talks with the government about opening churches as quickly as safely possible.

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In their letter, the English archbishops said “none of us would want to be in the situation in which we find ourselves,” adding that “there is no substitute for Catholics being able to physically attend and participate in the celebration of the Mass and the other sacraments.”

However, they warned that churches will remain closed “until the restrictions applied by the Government are lifted.”

“When the Prime Minister announced the lockdown, this included places of worship and therefore Catholic churches. These measures were put in place to stem the general transmission of the virus. It is right that the Catholic community fulfils its role in contributing to the preservation of life and the common good of society,” the letter says.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome