Bishop Denis Nulty
Restrictions to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus has presented many challenges for Catholic Church and Church of Ireland congregations across County Kildare.
Easter is a major part of the Christian churches’ calendar and there are several well-attended ceremonies through Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday.
However Catholic churches are closed to public worship except for socially distanced funerals, and congregations have been unable to contribute through collection baskets and other ways.
Priests and parishes have seen their financial resources reduced, Bishop Denis Nulty has said.
Bishop Denis told the Leader: “Priests need every support they can receive. There were limited Easter offerings this year due to the Covid-19 restrictions.”
Most of Ireland’s priests are considered self-employed for social welfare and tax purposes but many don’t qualify for the €350 a week Covid-19 Unemployment Payment Benefit.
When asked if the Government should introduce a special assistance payment for priests, Bishop Denis would only say: “The government has already been very generous to many communities.”
Due to pressure on resources, on the Dublin Archdiocese has been forced to introduce a online payment system for parishioners to contribute.
Bishop Denis visited the Oratory in Naas Hospital last week to support the Chaplaincy Team initiative praying for all in the hospital — patients, staff and relatives — as they face the challenges posed by Covid-19.
In a recent Easter message, Bishop Denis also reflected on ‘a Holy Week like no other’ as he sent blessings and good wishes to people of the diocese.
He also acknowledged the challenges facing young people, students and those in isolation along with all those on the front-line such as nurses, doctors and all staff in hospitals and nursing homes.
Bishop Denis said that the health emergency is disproportionately affecting older members of the community, many of who would be regular mass goers and attendees of churches.
Bishop Denis also said that over half of the priests in the Kildare Leighlin Diocese are ‘cocooning’ as they are aged over 70.
He explained: “We have to support the older people in our neighbourhoods as the virus is affecting them more than most.”
The senior churchman also believes that the health emergency will see more people returning to the church after restrictions are relaxed and gatherings are allowed once more.
“We have seen more engagement with the webcam Masses from people who may not be regular Mass goers.
“Priests have told me they’re also reaching people abroad from Masses in the diocese such as in mainland Europe, New York, South Africa and Australia.”
Meanwhile Church of Ireland minister in Naas Rev Philip Heak believes that people are coming together spiritually through online means even thought they have to physically stay apart.
The Catholic, Church of Ireland and Presbyterian ministers in Naas — Fr Liam Morgan, Rev Philip and Rev Mark Proctor recently came together for an ecumenical Easter greeting.
Rev Philip said that although churches are closed for public worship, many members of the congregation are regularly coming together online on social media.
The Sunday service was recorded at St John’s Church in Kill this Sunday and it will be the turn of St David’s Church in Naas this weekend.
Rev Philip said: “Although we have to social distance from each other, we can still be spiritually close to each other.”
The minister said that like across society in general, members of his congregation are concerned and fearful about Covid-19 and its consequences.
“Some people would be very fearful. We know that there are implications for you are older or have health conditions.
“Even though before our churches closed, some people had pulled away from services as they were cautious about infection.”
Rev Philip believes that there will be a ‘delayed grief’ issue in some communities as bereaved relatives and friends are only allowed a small gathering at a graveside.
He said: “Funerals are not allowed to use church buildings and so there is a small group permitted at gravesides.
“It’s very hard on the families.
“As a consequence of all these restrictions, I believe there will be an issue with the grieving process.
“We aim to have memorials, possibly for each deceased person, when the restrictions are lifted.”