LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster has welcomed UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement on Tuesday that public worship can resume in England on July 4.

Nichols, the president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, issued a statement thanking “all who have worked hard to bring this about, not least my fellow religious leaders.”

All places of worship in the United Kingdom were closed to the public on March 23 as part of the lockdown imposed to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. In mid-May, Northern Ireland opened its churches for private prayer, with England following on June 15, with Scotland and Wales allowing private prayer on June 22.

On Monday, Johnson said restaurants, cinemas, barbers, pubs, hotels, and places of worship can reopen to the public on July 4, and that the two-meter social distancing rule will be reduced to “one-meter plus.” Two households of any size will be able to meet indoors or outside, and outdoor recreation centers will be allowed to open.

Live theaters, gyms, swimming facilities, bowling alleys and nightclubs will remain closed for the time being, the prime minister said.

Johnson’s announcement only applies to England. Northern Ireland has already announced public liturgies can restart on June 29. Scotland is expected to clarify its timetable later this week, and the Wales government said it will “proceed cautiously” on lifting lockdown provisions.

Nichols said Catholics have “waited with patience and longing for this moment, understanding the importance of protecting the health of people in our society.”

“Now we are full of anticipation that we will be able again to take part together in the Eucharist, which lies at the center of our faith,” the cardinal said.

He added that it’s important to continue to abide by government anti-pandemic guidelines, including using appropriate social distancing and the other measures to avoid unnecessary risk.

The bishops’ conference is issuing detailed guidelines that will be distributed around dioceses and parishes.

“The past few months have been a time of fashioning new patterns of prayer, new ways of exploring and enriching our faith and vigorous ways of reaching out to those in need. We can build on these, forgetting nothing of the graces we have been given,” Nichols said on Tuesday.

“Yet now, with the experience of opening our churches for individual prayer already gained, this return to the more normal patterns of worship will be of great importance to all Catholics. This time of our ‘Eucharistic fast’ has made our hearts grow in longing for that moment when we can come together and receive again the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. That moment is now very near and for that we thank God,” the cardinal concluded.

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