By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
The Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, has said that it is “now time” for the phased reopening of churches.
Preaching at a Pentecost Sunday Mass in Westminster Cathedral, the Cardinal pointed out that churches accepted the government’s decision to close on 20 March because “the protection of life required it.”
However, “last week's announcements by the Prime Minister that some indoor sales premises can open tomorrow and that most shops can open on 15 June, questions directly the reasons why our churches remain closed,” said Cardinal Nichols.
“We are told that these openings, which are to be carefully managed, are based on the need to encourage key activities to start up again. Why are churches excluded from this decision?” Cardinal Nichols asked.
Beginning 1 June, England has eased restrictions on people’s movement while still insisting on the respect of social distancing norms. However, as it stands, churches and other places of worship will not be allowed to reopen until July at the earliest.
Faith in society
“The role of faith in our society has been made even clearer in these last weeks,” stressed the Cardinal. It serves “as a motivation for the selfless care of the sick and dying; as providing crucial comfort in bereavement; as a source of immense and effective provision for those in sharp and pressing need; as underpinning a vision of the dignity of every person, a dignity that has to be at the heart of the rebuilding of our society.”
For that reason, “the opening of our churches, even if just for individual prayer, helps to nurture this vital contribution to our common good,” the Cardinal noted.
Churches ready to reopen safely
Cardinal Nichols acknowledged the importance of reopening churches safely, but also indicated his confidence that churches can do so. “We have developed expert guidance. We are ready to follow the government’s guidelines as soon as they are finalized,” he said.
“What is the risk to a person who sits quietly in a church which is being thoroughly cleaned, properly supervised and in which social distancing is maintained?” asked the Cardinal.