As churches across England reopen for private prayer on Monday, Catholics in neighbouring Wales are still waiting for the day when they will be allowed back to their churches.
Archbishop George Stack of Cardiff told CNA that he expected the Welsh government, which has devolved power over lockdown rules, to announce a date for the reopening of places of worship before the end of June.
“We’re hoping that in the next two weeks we too will get the go-ahead for opening of churches for private prayer, under certain conditions of course,” he said on June 12.
According to Public Health Wales, 14,742 people have tested positive and 1,444 have died of COVID-19 in Wales as of June 15.
Stack said that Catholics, who account for roughly 200,000 of the three million population of Wales, generally accepted the need for churches to remain closed in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
“The people of Wales have accepted the government’s modus operandi. I haven’t heard vociferous opinion saying: ‘We shouldn’t be lagging behind England,’” he explained.
“They regret – as we all do – the fact that we cannot use our churches at present. But I think there’s solidarity among our people with everybody else in the country. We’re all having to bear this burden, and we all understand it, even if we didn’t agree with it particularly. It’s like suffering: you understand it, even if you don’t like it.”
Stack is responsible for two of the three Catholic dioceses in Wales as he is not only Archbishop of Cardiff, the Welsh capital, but also apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Menevia. The remaining diocese, Wrexham, is led by Bishop Peter Brignall.
Brignall told CNA: “It is disappointing that the progress to opening churches and other places of public worship in Wales for private prayer as a first step is behind that of England.”
“In the interests of the health and safety of all, it is understandable, as the infection rates in the population remain higher in many parts of Wales than across the border in the neighbouring regions of England.”
He continued: “We remain patient in the understanding that, as Cardinal Nichols has said, ‘the health and protection of all people, especially the vulnerable, is a proper cause for caution and care.’ While we await, we remain faithful to the reading of the Bible and to our prayers in that private place commended us by the Lord.”
Stack said that Catholic parishes in Wales had shown “a lot of imagination and creativity” during the pandemic, offering not only livestreamed Masses, but also daily devotional practices.
He praised one parish that launched a telephone apostolate for those without internet connections.
He said: “There will be people who don’t have access to computers and can’t follow a livestream, but they can phone this church and they get a little Scripture reading, a reflection, and an invitation to prayer, which I think is lovely.”
The archbishop has celebrated livestreamed Masses from St David’s Cathedral, central Cardiff, throughout the crisis.
“All the priests will tell you that it’s very strange celebrating Mass in an empty church,” he said. “It is very strange, but I’ve found it extremely meditative. The words that we say during Mass – the Eucharistic Prayer in particular – jump off the page as you’re saying them aloud in that sacred space. It’s quite extraordinary.”
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