The Catholic Bishop of Cork and Ross is set to welcome parishioners back to churches across the diocese under new Government restrictions.
The easing of restriction on Monday will see the return of in-person religious services but under the roadmap, churches have been told that communions and confirmations should not take place at this time.
Bishop Fintan Gavin, along with members of the community have been preparing the Cathedral of St Mary and St Anne in Shandon for reopening with sanitising measures and social distancing in place.
Speaking to The Echo, spokesman for the diocese and parish priest of Enniskeane in West Cork, Fr Tom Hayes, spoke of what those attending services can expect from Monday.
Some people think that the churches can only have 50 people but it’s a bit more nuanced than that because what the Government has allowed the church to do is to create pods of up to 50 people within the larger churches.
“So in a place like the cathedral and in a lot of the bigger churches with lots of space, they can create pods of socially distanced groups of 50 and then there have to be four metres of space between each of those pods and each pod has to go in and out its own door.
“Some people might think they can’t come because it’s only 50 people allowed but in fact, there is more space than people think,” he said.
Fr Hayes said that while many churches will be operating at a fifth of normal capacity due to social distancing, people living in the same household can sit together in a pew and don’t have to distance themselves from one another.
Fr Hayes also spoke of how much work has been put into getting churches ready to welcome back people in each community “Parishes are working flat out to get ready and to have all the measures in place and keep the place safe.
There’ll be stewards at all of the churches helping people, welcoming people, showing them where the sanitiser is and they’ll guide people to available seating spaces as well.
"These are volunteers from the parishes who are very generously coming forward and offering to help out.
“The people involved in the different ministries will be coming back as well so the people who normally read at mass, the people who lead prayers, distribute Holy Communion, the altar servers, they’re all going to be gradually coming back into their normal ministry positions as well,” he said.
He said that the closure of the churches has been “a real absence”.
“It’s been tough from both sides both for the parishioners for whom going to church and going to mass is really important and it’s a big loss too from the point of view of the priests who have been missing people big time as well.
“There’s something in us all that needs connections with one another as well so to be able to come out and even if you have to sit two metres from somebody it’s okay because there’s that sense of accompaniment there and the fact people can pray together again is something very special,” he said.
Well-known advocate of the elderly in Cork, Paddy O’Brien expressed how important the church and prayer are for elderly people for whom the closure of churches was “a big blow” as it was part of their daily routine.
During the past 13 months, I’ve been speaking to many elderly people who said that what they missed most of all after missing their family was not being able to attend mass.
“Church numbers would regrettably be very low if the elderly population did not attend mass and I welcome the announcement that the churches are reopened as it’s a place elderly meet their neighbours and friends and for many, it’s their only social outlet when they meet people after mass,” he said.
Mr O’Brien appealed for people to “continue to involve themselves with senior citizens of their parish and help to transport an elderly person to mass”.
He also welcomed the vaccine bonus for those who have been vaccinated and said that it is “a new life for many people who can see their friends and speak to their families again and be able to visit each others’ homes”.