16 March 2020, The Tablet

Church leaders urge solidarity in response to Covid-19

Church leaders urge solidarity in response to Covid-19

The Sunday of the Bernese inhabitants, (in a park in front of the cathedral of the Swiss Capital), unlike their French and Italian neighbors who are confined because of Covid-19
Glories Francois/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images

Church leaders across Europe have urged solidarity and prudence in response to the coronavirus pandemic, with Catholic Masses now suspended in some countries and restricted to small congregations in others.

Numerous bishops and prominent Church members are now isolated as suspected victims.

In Spain, the Bishops' Conference suspended all talks, concerts and catechesis sessions on church premises, and urged Catholics "with chronic diseases, elderly, weakened or with potential risk, and those who live with them" to follow Masses via the media.

In 13 March guidelines, the conference's newly elected president, Cardinal Juan Jose Omella of Barcelona, said services could continue for small congregations, but urged participants to receive Holy Communion by hand and avoid physical touch during the Peace.

He called on celebrants to "exercise extreme care in disinfecting hands", and said all Spanish Christians should show "civic responsibility and fraternal solidarity" towards those affected, with trust in the Lord "who never leaves us at times of trial but rather it sustains our hope and invites us to conversion".

In Poland, where all schools and universities were closed last week, the 151-member bishops' conference called off its planned 12-13 March plenary, while its president, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, urged Catholics to use a special dispensation to stay away from Sunday Mass and watch or listen to services on TV or the radio instead.

He also recommended increasing the number of Sunday Masses to aid smaller congregations, and said the Church would be close to those in quarantine or fearful for relatives.

"I thank those who, in various areas of public life, are struggling with dedication for our health and safety, often risking their own health and life", Gadecki said in a televised national address last weekend.

"I also express sincere sympathy for families who have lost loved ones, directing them to the Mercy of God".

Similar advice was issued to Catholics in Lithuania and Slovakia, where Catholics were also asked to depart from usual practices by receiving Communion by hand. Slovakia's Catholic noted with "great pain" that all services had now been suspended, along with pilgrimages and other church events, and said the Sacrament of Reconciliation should only be administered when transparent film had been fixed across confessional grilles.

The country's Greek Catholic and Orthodox churches instructed churchgoers to desist from the practice of kissing doorway icons, while the Catholic Church in the Czech Republic and Hungary said an upper limit of 100 was being imposed until further notice on Mass attendance.

Germany's Mainz diocese said last Friday its 52-year-old bishop, Peter Kohlgraf, had been diagnosed with coronavirus, adding that churches would be open only for private prayer, with Masses and sermons available on TV, radio and the Internet.

Meanwhile, Bishop Emmanuel Delmas of Angers was reported on Monday to have contracted the virus during a 9-15 March ad limina visit by French bishops to Rome. All 29 bishops on the same delegation from southern and western dioceses, who shook hands with the Pope during a Vatican audience, were in isolation this week.

The Bishops' Conference president, Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort of Reims, called on Catholics to show "national solidarity" in the struggle against the illness but also urged over-70s to stay away from church events.

Italy's northern Bergamo diocese, the home region of Pope St John XXIII, said 20 of its 700 clergy had tested positive for coronavirus, while six had died. The stricken 62-year-old Bishop Antonio Napolioni of Cremona was reported last week to be on a ventillator in hospital.

A joint appeal for prayers was published on 12 March by Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Swiss-based Council of Catholic Episcopates of Europe (CCEE) and Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, who heads the Commission of European Union Bishops Conferences (COMECE), which cancelled its fortieth anniversary Brussels assembly on 25-27 March.

In a Vatican Radio interview on Monday, Cardinal Hollerich accused Frabce, Germany and other EU countries of "thinking only about their national interests" and showing a "lack solidarity" in closing their borders.

In a statement the same day, the Cardinal's Luxembourg archdiocese, where restaurants, cinemas and libraries are closed, said he himself was now in "home quarantine" after a staff member had tested positive for the virus. It added that all marriages, baptisms and confirmations were now suspended, and said funerals could be attended only by immediate family members.

Several Church leaders said keeping a distance from others should now be seen as a mark of civic responsibility and "love of neighbour", including Austria's Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, who praised the "decisive and painful measures" taken by the government of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

The country's Bishops' Conference also cancelled its planned 16-17 March spring plenary in Pfons and reappointed Schonborn as its president for another year. Speaking at the weekend, the Vienna-based Cardinal called on Catholics to rediscover "the exercise of praying at home" and the "old custom of spiritual Communion" as an alternative to attending church. He also urged prayers "for the many people fearful for their jobs, facing financial hardship or falling sick".


Isolated but not alone: resources for Catholics during the coronavirus pandemic.

  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99