Covid-19 pandemic a ‘cruel time’ for dying and bereaved, Catholic Primate says

Special Mass told society must eusure heroic healthcare workers ‘rewarded for their goodness’

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a "cruel time" for the dying and the bereaved in Ireland, Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin has said.

The archbishop said the tradition in the country was to “wrap those who are dying, and families who are bereaved, in a blanket of love and care” but that this had not been possible during the crisis.

“At a time when physical closeness is so important, and our caring instinct is to hug someone, or hold their hand, it was distressing that often the final words of love and prayer had to be spoken over a telephone, or from behind windows and screens, or masks or visors,” he said. “What a cruel time it has been for the dying and the bereaved.”

Archbishop Martin was leading Ireland's Catholic bishops in a special national pilgrimage and Mass at Knock Shrine in Co Mayo on Sunday in support of those bereaved during the pandemic and to pray for the repose of those who died. It was arranged for November, when Catholics traditionally remember the dead.


He praised “our amazing and dedicated health workers and carers who put themselves out to wipe the brow and dry the tears of our suffering and dying brothers and sisters” during the pandemic.

Denying themselves

“In a special way today in Knock we remember, with deep gratitude and prayer, the ‘heroes’ who kept our health, emergency and essential services going during the pandemic, often denying themselves in the cause of compassion, charity and love. And they are still doing it, today and every day,” he said.

He appealed for society to “never forget them, and always ensure that our carers and health workers are appreciated, fully resourced and rewarded for their goodness”.

Recalling how “during the pandemic, many of our normal funeral customs and rituals had to be curtailed in order to protect health and life”, he said important opportunities to pay our respects and offer comfort to the bereaved were missed.

Close relatives and friends were often unable to travel home for funerals, month’s mind Masses, anniversaries and blessings of the graves, he said, but yet the “people of Ireland instinctively reached out to those in need of care and consolation”.

They did so, he said, by “lining the streets in solidarity, sending cards or leaving digital messages of sympathy, and setting up webcams in parish churches so that family members could connect in from faraway places”.


The pandemic “may have struck at the very heart of our outreach and ministry to the sick, the dying and the bereaved; but, it could not, and did not, and will not destroy our hope and our conviction that God remains especially near to people who suffer, and God is close to those who are broken-hearted,” he said.

A Service of Light acknowledging the impact of the pandemic was held by the Church of Ireland diocese of Dublin in Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, led by Archbishop Michael Jackson and Dean Dermot Dunne.

Names of those who had died since the start of the pandemic were read and candles were lit in their memory by relatives, as the Cathedral Choir sang Duruflé’s Requiem.

“We pause to remember their name, their voice, their face, and the memory that binds them to us,” said Dean Dunne.

People were reminded by Archbishop Jackson that“these lights in their brightness are only symbols, but as they burn and finally go out, we remember that suffering passes, though memory remains forever”.

People struggling with grief can contact the Dublin Bereavement Support Service, which provides free, professional and confidential support at

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times