By Vatican News
As restrictions due to Covid-19 begin to ease many countries are making their first tentative steps into the next phase of the pandemic. Churches that have been closed for physical worship are opening their doors to the faithful who are asked to observe a series of precautionary measures.
In the Holy Land, Tuesday 26 May is the turn of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem where 50 people will be allowed inside at a time.
This comes on the heels of the official reopening of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre on Sunday, as announced by the Custos of the Holy Land, Father Francis Patton, OFM, and the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Patriarchs of Jerusalem, Theophilus III and Nourhan Manougian.
A statement signed by the heads of the Basilica’s three custodians said that “for security reasons and to avoid the risk of a new spread of the Covid-19 infection, the number will initially be limited to 50 people and the Basilica will be accessible only to those who have no fever or symptoms of infection and wear appropriate facial protection.” It will also be necessary to respect the minimum safety distance of 2 metres and "avoid any act of devotion that may involve physical contact such as touching and kissing the stones, icons, vestments and staff of the Basilica".
The closure of the Basilica of the Nativity, along with that of all churches and mosques in the Holy Land, was ordered last March 5 by the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
A time of healing
In an interview with Vatican News, Fr Patton described this gradual reopening as a sort of a convalescence after a period of silence.
Fr Patton pointed out that throughout the lockdown the Basilicas have continued to be a place of prayer and worship. He highighted how the extraordinary circumstances have fuelled a strong ecclesial bond and an even more powerful feeling of ecumenism between the Greek, the Latin and the Armenian communities who together, “representing the east and the west, really joined their voices to invoke the Lord for the end of the pandemic.”
Regarding Pope Francis’ exhortation to continue to be prudent and safeguard each other’s health, Fr Patton said he embraces that message wholeheartedly.
He also reflected on the fact that “it shouldn't take a pandemic to make us attentive towards the most vulnerable people“ in our societies.
“From now on, what we are trying to do is to ensure prudent and necessary measures. But then we have to look forward to going back to normality,” he said.
As we await effective therapies for the virus, he concluded, it is important to move beyond the fear of contagion “because that would mean no longer living authentic human relationships.”
“We risk becoming people, who, out of fear, do not sleep at night, no longer shake hands with the other, no longer kiss their children. And that would mean entering a phase of ‘anaesthetic anthropology’ and it would be a terrible result. So prudence yes, respect yes, excessive fear no, anxiety no, and certainly not thinking that we should continue in this way forever.”