LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Catholic officials have asked the Irish prime minister to allow people to return to public worship during the Lenten season.

The office of Taoiseach (the term for prime minister in the Republic of Ireland) Micheál Martin said the country’s four archbishops met with him on Friday to discuss the current level of COVID-19 restrictions and the Catholic Church’s desire to return to worship.

Attending the meeting were Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Archbishop Dermot Farrell of Dublin, Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly of Cashel and Emly, and Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam.

“Recognizing the huge challenges which the pandemic poses, the Archbishops emphasized that they wish to continue supporting the public health message and to encourage all necessary measures, including vaccination, to protect health and well-being, especially that of the most vulnerable,” the statement said.

Churches were closed to public worship in January when the Republic of Ireland entered “Level 5” of its coronavirus restrictions, although up to 10 people could attend funerals and up to 6 people at weddings.

The prime minister is expected to announce new plans for COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday, but even if the country moves to “Level 4,” public worship services would still not be allowed.

The government statement on the meeting with the archbishops said they “shared their concern that life at present is particularly stressful and difficult for people to endure, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.”

“Recognizing the spiritual comfort and hope that participation in public worship brings, the Archbishops asked that public worship resume when an easing of restrictions is considered. They expressed a strong desire that people might gather safely this year for the important ceremonies of Holy Week and Easter. They also requested consideration of an increase in the number of the bereaved who may attend funeral Masses,” the statement continued.

The statement said that Martin thanked the four archbishops for their support and acknowledged “the importance of the Church community in people’s lives at this time of stress and worry,” and that he outlined the ongoing concerns regarding the spread of the virus, particularly the new variants, “stressing that any increase at all in mobility can have serious consequences for public health and put pressure on the health service.”

That statement said that the prime minister would give “consideration” to the views of the archbishops and “agreed to maintain dialogue as the situation evolves.”

The Irish bishops’ conference has not yet issued a statement on the meeting with the prime minister.

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