By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
In a proposal to Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, several Catholic Bishops in Australia have detailed a four-stage plan for the reopening of churches. 18 Bishops, including Sydney’s Archbishop Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP signed the proposal.
The Bishops note that “social distancing and other restrictions have taken a significant psychological and spiritual toll on people.” For this reason, “re-opening churches, at first only for private prayer and confessions and with strict protocols in place, would be a significant benefit to many in the community, offering solace to the faithful and hope to the anxious,” the proposal reads.
The Australian prelates also appealed to the Premier to allow baptisms and weddings to take place with ministers and up to ten people in attendance. They also requested that a larger number of people be allowed to attend funerals and graveside services.
In the first stage, monitors will oversee the use of hand sanitizers and physical distancing.
During the second, they suggest that Masses and services be held in outdoor spaces like car parks with a limited number of persons in attendance. There would be “no collection plates or hymn books” passed around, “no shaking of hands or holding hands.” Holy Communion would be “given and received safely.”
Stage three would see Masses and services moved indoors.
The final stage will be a return to the “new normal with learnings from the Covid-19 pandemic.”
In January this year, Australia recorded its first confirmed coronavirus case. In March, it closed its borders to non-residents and imposed social distancing rules. Recently, however, with the cases of Covid-19 falling in many states, the country has started to loosen some of its tightest restrictions.
Australia currently has 6,825 confirmed cases of coronavirus infections, 95 dead and 5, 859 recovered patients.