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Europe eases restrictions but churches stay shut

17 April 2020


Soldiers wearing protective masks block the approach to the Monastery of the Caves, in Kiev, Ukraine, which was closed for quarantine, on Tuesday

Soldiers wearing protective masks block the approach to the Monastery of the Caves, in Kiev, Ukraine, which was closed for quarantine, on Tuesday

FRUSTRATION at the continued closure of churches in some parts of Europe boiled over this week, as some countries began to ease their strict lockdown measures for certain sectors of the economy.

The decision in Italy allow some businesses, including bookshops and children’s clothing stores, to open, but not churches, was challenged by one bishop, who asked in an Easter broadcast: “Why is it OK to go to the market to buy an artichoke, but not to go to church for the blessing of olive oil?”

There were reports in France and Italy of police breaking up pro­­scribed Easter vigils and services in churches.

A priest in Paris was fined for cele­brating a mass late on Saturday night which brought together 40 wor­shippers. Police were alerted to St-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet Roman Catholic Church in central Paris after local residents reported hearing music coming from inside.

The service was also being live-streamed by the church, and the footage shows neither clergy nor choristers following social-distancing rules. A note on the YouTube page also informs viewers that watching mass online does not re­­place the need for them to attend in person.

In the Calabria region of southern Italy, a service was broken up by police, and the priest apo­logised on his church’s Facebook page.

Police raided another church on Easter Day after reports that a public mass was under way, but they with­drew when they found only a small number of worshippers there for private prayer, which is permitted in Italy.

In Spain, non-essential workers in manufacturing, construction, and some services were allowed back at work on Monday, while the rest of the population must remain at home.

In Denmark, a gradual lifting of the lockdown has begun with the reopening of schools for children under 11; but churches, libraries, sports venues, and shopping centres will remain closed until at least 10 May.

In Austria, which has experienced far fewer deaths from the virus than other European countries, some shops were also allowed to reopen.

President Macron has extended the lockdown in France until 11 May, after which crèches and prim­ary and secondary schools will be able to reopen progressively.

The Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, celebrated the eucharist, in his home, with his wife, Helen, present. Readings and music were delivered virtually, performed by family mem­bers in London, Glas­gow, Paris, and Boston.

Dr Innes said: “Easter 2020 is an Easter unlike any I have known. All of us miss the togetherness of our natural families, and the together­ness of our church family. But perhaps the sense of isolation has given us a new sense of gratitude for simple things.

“It may have given us a new attentiveness to what is really im­­portant in life, and perhaps a new desire to draw near to God.”

In the United States, many churches defied state orders and joined for Easter services in person. Some resorted, however, to “drive through” services in car parks, in which worshippers stayed in their cars to follow physical-distancing guidelines, though this was not per­mitted in all states.

In Kentucky, state troopers took down the licence-plate numbers of worshippers attending a service at Maryville Baptist Church on Easter Day, and issued quarantine notices.

Rules on services varied from state to state. In Louisiana, a state­wide order to restrict church gather­ings to fewer than 50 people was defied by Pastor Tony Spell, who leads Life Tabernacle Church near Baton Rouge. He said that he planned to host 2000 people during two Easter Day services. The police said afterwards, however, that they had counted about 330 attending at the morning service.

Other churches delivered the con­secrated host to the doorsteps of worshippers to allow them to receive holy communion during live­streamed services on Easter Day.

There are tentative signs that the infection rate in the US, which has the most cases of Covid-19 in the world, is now plateauing.

In New York State, where the virus has killed more than 10,000 people, many have been buried in unmarked mass graves.

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