14 May 2020, The Tablet

News Briefing: Britain and Ireland

News Briefing: Britain and Ireland

The Church of England's General Synod in York in July has been cancelled but might still go online.
Danny Lawson/PA Archive/PA Images

A Dominican friar who trained as a doctor before he entered the Order of Preachers has been given permission by his superiors to set his studies aside and return to the frontline to help fight Covid-19. Br Chris Gault OP is a native of Belfast and is currently working at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Belfast, where he previously worked before taking up the call to religious life. “I received an email and in discussion with my superiors I thought, ‘Is this the right thing to do, is this the Christian thing to do?’” he told RTE. His exams in philosophy in Maynooth have been deferred.

Churches and other places of worship will not reopen until at least 4 July, the Government announced this week. Churches will reopen in the same phase as some pubs and restaurants, personal care facilities such as hairdressers, and leisure facilities. Last week Cardinal Vincent Nichols told Catholics who wrote to the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales asking for churches to reopen for private prayer that doing so before restrictions are lifted would endanger life.

Filipino and Indian seafarers “feel like prisoners” on their ships because Covid restrictions mean they cannot return to their home countries, the Liverpool Seafarers Centre (LSC), which is supported by the Catholic Apostleship of the Sea, has warned. Many have been at sea for up to nine months, and want to see their families, but cannot do so because of travel restrictions.

The Church of England has cancelled the July session of General Synod, which was due to take place in York. Instead, it may request a change in law to allow members to meet online.

Leaders of the main Churches in Northern Ireland said they hoped that the world will see “a new dawn once the Covid-19 pandemic is conquered” and will realise “the futile nature of war and how precious the gift of life truly is”. In their joint statement marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of VE (Victory in Europe) Day, the five Church leaders, including Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, recalled that while people celebrated on 8 May 1945, as nearly six years of war came to an end, “peace was won, but at a great cost”.

Churches in London have joined with the Sikh charity Nishkam Swat to offer food to homeless people in Trafalgar Square. Organised by Caritas Westminster, volunteers come from the Jesuit parish in Mayfair, Westminster Cathedral, Holy Apostles in Pimlico and Holy Redeemer in Chelsea. Fr Dominic Robinson, SJ, Chair of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Diocese of Westminster, said the move was a response to “an emergency situation”.

Scottish bishops have set up a working group to address the Church’s response to the pandemic. It will be chaired by Sir Harry Burns (pictured), a lay Catholic who formerly served as Chief Medical Officer of Scotland and currently holds a chair in global public health at the University of Strathclyde. Sir Harry said that the reopening of churches for public worship would “happen in a phased way, always taking account of best infection control practice and guidelines on social distancing and hygiene”.

Catholic schools are helping to make personal protective equipment (PPE) to tackle the spread of coronavirus. Teachers and volunteers at St Joseph’s Catholic School in Salisbury produce around 10,000 visors weekly, and St Mary’s Catholic College in Wallasey has turned some of its classrooms into workshops. At John Henry Newman School in Stevenage, a team of teachers and volunteers has produced more than 3,000 visors for organisations across north Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, as have staff and students at St Benedict’s School in west London.

Growing Old Gracefully, a small charity based in Leeds Diocese, has begun offering spiritual and material support to the elderly during the lockdown period. Its website contains reflections, prayers and links to online religious services, plus information about where to access help or offer help. The work is funded by the diocese and some religious orders. (To find this and other online resources at this time, visit The Tablet's corona help page, Isolated but not Alone.)

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