LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A two-week “firebreak” to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Wales has “disappointed” the Archbishop of Cardiff, since it will close churches to public worship.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has said the countrywide lockdown will be “time-limited” and be “a short, sharp, shock to turn back the clock, slow down the virus and buy us more time.”
The “firebreak” is scheduled to begin on Oct. 23, and all churches, pubs, restaurants, hotels and non-essential shops will be closed until Nov. 9. In addition, households will be forbidden from mixing indoors or outdoors. However, schools will remain open, some in a limited capacity.
Churches in the entire United Kingdom had been closed – even for private worship – on March 23 when the nation went into lockdown. Places of worship were opened for private prayer in June, and for public worship in July, with social distancing measures enforced.
Wales is the only one of the UK’s four constituent countries to have reinstituted a ban on public worship. England recently introduced a three-tier system, none of which impose a public worship ban.
“I am naturally disappointed at the forthcoming ‘firebreak’ measures which, once again, will see our churches closed for public worship. Since their re-opening at the end of the first lockdown, our churches have been places of safety and security as well as tranquility and peace, so much needed in these turmoil-ridden days,” said Archbishop George Stack of Cardiff in an Oct. 20 statement.
“They have been exemplary in conforming to social distancing measures, health and safety requirements and track and tracing procedures. We are grateful to the teams of volunteers which have made this possible,” he continued.
Stack admitted that during the first lockdown’s required adaptation of livestreaming Masses had an “impact” on the lives of the faithful, but said “”gathering to celebrate Mass and worshipping God as a community of faith lies at the heart of our religious life.”
“Ours is an incarnational religion. The ‘Eucharistic Famine’ of the recent months of lockdown has been painful to us in so many ways – known and unknown. Churches are not just places in which we worship God but with which we worship God,” the archbishop said.
Stack said the Catholic Church is continuing to dialogue with the Welsh government “in the hope” that churches will be allowed to remain open for private prayer at specified times during the “firebreak.”
“Part of that prayer will surely be that the ‘firebreak’ measures will achieve their purpose of reducing the level and speed of infections caused by the coronavirus pandemic and restore the nation to health,” the archbishop said.
Wales joins the Republic of Ireland as the only nations in Europe to have reimposed bans on public worship due to the spike of COVID-19 cases.
Earlier this month, Ireland entered into “Level 3” of its COVID-19 prevention plan, which banned public liturgies. From Wednesday, Ireland will move to “Level 5” – the highest form of lockdown – for six weeks. No public liturgies – except for small weddings and funerals – will be allowed during that period.
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