The Irish Bishops have said they “fully support” public health authorities after a new COVID-19-related suspension of public worship.

– Encouragement to the faithful “to persevere and not to lose heart”

On Monday, the Republic of Ireland entered new “level 3” COVID-19 restrictions for three weeks, with “level 5” being a full lockdown. Dublin has been on level 3 restrictions for two weeks, and County Donegal for one.

The new measures across the Republic mean the suspension of public worship with exceptions only for weddings and funerals, as shops, restaurants, hairdressers and gyms, for example, remain open.

The public health authorities made the decision to implement the new restrictions as a surge of coronavirus infections since mid-August has taken the number of cases in the country to 39,584 as of this October 8, with 1,816 deaths.

Reacting to the move to level 3, the Irish Bishops, in a statement at the close of their virtual autumn assembly, encouraged the Irish people “to persevere and not to lose heart”.

“Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic the people of Ireland have endured testing times with courage, resilience, and compassion”, the Bishops recalled.

“Individuals and communities have made great sacrifices for the protection of life, health and the Common Good. Like many others, the Church has endeavoured to support the people of Ireland, north and south, in the face of considerable uncertainty and disruption”, they continued.

They acknowledged that “we owe a great debt of gratitude to our priests and to the many volunteers whose continued dedication has ensured that our churches have remained very safe places to gather for Mass and the Sacraments”.

“Faith and prayer, in the home and in church can be a huge support in difficult times. While we fully support the guidance of the public health authorities, we will continue to engage constructively in the coming days with the civil authorities to ensure that our people have continued access to the support of Mass and the Sacraments and essential spiritual nourishment for these challenging times.

“The communal celebration of Mass and the Sacraments – even with restricted numbers – is at the very heart of what it means for us to be a Christian community.  These are not simply ‘gatherings’ of people, but profound expressions of who we are as a Church”, the Bishops stressed, warning that “the loss of these spiritual supports can be a source of great anxiety, and fear, and can have a detrimental impact on… overall health and well-being”.

– Praise for Pope’s new encyclical Fratelli tutti

Also in their latest statement, the Irish Bishops “welcomed” Pope Francis’ new encyclical Fratelli tutti and said they had “reflected on its provocative message, in particular that love, which is at the heart of the Gospel – reaches out to all of our ‘brothers and sisters’ who share our common humanity, especially the vulnerable”.

In his new text the pontiff “presents the example of the Good Samaritan and urges us to draw close to the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters throughout the world”, the Irish prelates recalled, “conscious that the pandemic has seriously impacted the livelihoods of many Irish families”.

“The plight of poor and homeless people, and the needs of our elderly and vulnerable, have been thrown into stark relief” during COVID-19, the Bishops lamented.

“The pandemic has also heightened our consciousness of suffering further afield. The pandemic is a global phenomenon. It has impacted most severely on people around the world who are already seriously disadvantaged in terms of poverty and lack of access to healthcare. 

“Although we are faced with difficult challenges in our own lives and our own land, let us not forget the need for solidarity with all our brothers and sisters who are suffering throughout the world”, the Bishops concluded.

They appealed that the “uplifting and inspiring… courage, compassion and generosity” that the Irish people have shown during the pandemic might continue to reach “the poorest and most in need – both at home and in the furthest corners of the world”.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.