Donegal’s churches should aim to open for prayer by next week, bishop says

Alan McGuckian outlines social distancing and hygiene requirements in letter to diocese

Bishop Alan McGuckian SJ and Msgr Kevin Gillespie celebrate Mass in St Eunan’s Cathedral in Letterkenny, Co Donegal in March. Photograph: Joe Dunne

Catholic churches in Donegal should be open for personal prayer by May 13th, Bishop of Raphoe Alan McGuckian has said. In a letter to faithful in the diocese he said, "I believe it is now time for us to move to a new phase and to open our churches again for personal prayer."

It was “time to co-operate generously in the gradual process of relaxation”. He asked “all priests to ensure that all of the guidelines are in place before opening churches. This will include steps such as creating signage, roping benches off, assembling rotas for hygiene etc before taking the step of opening. It would be good to aim to have this done by Wednesday 13th May,” he wrote.

People in the diocese had been “extremely impressive in their patient acceptance of the current situation,” he said, and had “shown a strong lead in adopting a strict discipline in relation to the closing of our churches.”

However it was “now time for us to move to a new phase and to open our churches again for personal prayer.” Social distancing requirements should be observed and, if possible, churches’ entrance doors “should be left permanently open so that no one need touch the handle” with a“hand sanitiser at all entry and exit points.”

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Candles should be lit without the use of common lighters with, possibly, “a large candle permanently lit for lighting small candles so that people touch no surfaces. Hand gel could be provided” or candles “could be removed entirely.”

A one-way system for entry and exit to churches should apply and pews should be cordoned off with one pew open in every three.

There should “be a rota for disinfecting commonly touched areas, such as pew ends, empty holy water fonts, notice boards, etc. Where necessary, there should be volunteers to oversee the numbers entering the church.”

It is was also “important to ensure that cleaning personnel are instructed what to wear for cleaning, ie masks, gloves and aprons. They should be clearly instructed on what to clean/disinfect.”

Where funerals were concerned he said that “as we move towards having a service in the church we must work with undertakers to ensure that families are fully agreed in advance about those who can come into the church and cemetery.”

He noted that “the Government guideline is very clear: ‘Phase 1 foresees continuance of the restriction on attendance at funerals to a maximum of 10 people and only members of the household, close family or close friends if the deceased has no household or family members’.”

There would be “no ceremonies of reception of remains the evening before a funeral, he said, and it was “ very important that people who have been exposed to the coronavirus should not attend,” Bishop McGuckian said.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times