PUBLIC worship is slowly resuming across Europe as national lockdowns are eased.
In Germany, where Evangelical and Roman Catholic churches have generally remained open for private prayer, Saxony, Thuringia, and Bavaria allowed restricted congregations from Monday; other states are expected to follow this month.
On Sunday, the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, administered holy communion from behind Plexiglass at his first public mass in Cologne Cathedral, although singing was prohibited, and details of the 122 people attending were kept for future infection tracing.
In neighbouring Austria, services are to resume from next Friday, with one masked churchgoer for every ten square metres; small-scale weddings, baptisms, and funerals will be permitted. In a weekend message, the country’s Roman Catholic bishops urged “an awareness of different ways of being a church”, and said that online services would “remain an important part of religious life”.
In Spain, which had one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe, churches will be allowed to use one third of their floor space for services from Monday, increasing to 50 per cent two weeks later.
In a weekend pastoral letter, however, the Archbishop of Valencia, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares, defended the right of bishops to continue preventing public worship in heavily infected areas, including Madrid. Anti-Christian lobbies would “ruthlessly blame the Church”, he warned, if new infections occurred.
PAA priest stands in an empty church in Morlaix, Brittany, on Saturday
In Italy, where the two-month coronavirus lockdown was partially lifted this week after 29,000 deaths, church services will begin again, with health precautions, from the end of this month. These allow funerals with up to 15 people, and follow church accusations that the government, led by the Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, was prioritising the economy over religious needs.
In Eastern Europe, churches remain closed to the public in Slovakia and Hungary, but are being reopened in stages in the Czech Republic: 30 people are now allowed at services, and all restrictions are to end on 8 June.
In Poland, where celebrations of St John Paul II’s 100th birthday had been planned for later this month, churches have stayed open for small symbolic congregations. In a joint weekend letter with RC and Muslim leaders, the Polish Ecumenical Council’s seven member-Churches asked the Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, to extend the permitted numbers.
Orthodox Churches continue to respond differently to the pandemic, although all have adopted sanitary measures. In Russia, where most Orthodox liturgies have been carried out behind closed doors, Patriarch Kirill extended a ban on public entry to churches indefinitely at the end of April, warning clergy of sanctions if they violated the lockdown.
Although the same strict rules were applied in Belarus, the Orthodox Metropolitan in Moldova, Vladimir of Kishinev, accused government leaders of imposing “cruel and unacceptable restrictions” on his Church, and “readily choosing crowded markets and grocery stores as a priority”.
Churches have reopened for private prayer this week in Greece, where there have been relatively few Covid-19 deaths. Public services are set to restart under strict conditions from 17 May.
Conflict is likely in France, however, where the President, Emmanuel Macron, allowed schools and shops to reopen this week, but said that churches must stay closed until at least 2 June. The RC Archbishop of Paris, the Most Revd Michel Aupetit, accused the government of showing “zero understanding of people”, and treating Christians “like kids”. Dozens of French MPs have signed a protest petition.