The Malta Independent 19 April 2021, Monday

TMID Editorial: Covid-19 – The angry archbishop

Tuesday, 6 April 2021, 08:56 Last update: about 13 days ago

Archbishop Charles Scicluna was an angry man last Thursday.

While celebrating Maundy Thursday, the day when Jesus Christ established the institution of the Eucharist, he expressed his disappointment that the Holy Week celebrations were being held in empty churches.

Covid-19 restrictions have meant that churches have remained closed to the public for a number of weeks as the country battles to contain the spread of the virus. During Easter Week, they were only open for private prayers for single individuals or groups of not more than two people.

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But what irked the archbishop is that, while churches were empty as the Church marked the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and every parish did its best to reach out to its community via social media means, other places have remained open as if nothing is happening.

It is unacceptable, the head of the Maltese church charged, that people are allowed to play the lotto and go to supermarkets and then are not allowed to attend Mass. While urging the faithful to continue to follow instructions by the health authorities, he said he will not accept that another Easter comes by and no people are allowed to be present for the Church’s Easter celebrations.

“We are being denied the celebration of Easter,” Mgr Scicluna said.

He is not wrong.

Churches have been deemed to be among the safest of places in terms of pandemic control. People’s temperatures are checked before they enter the church, they are spread across the whole church as many benches and chairs are left empty on purpose so as to avoid close contact, and there is no queuing as it is the priest who approaches the faithful to give them Holy Communion, unlike the usual practice.

It is far more possible for people to contract the disease in supermarkets, as they brush against each other in crowded aisles, touch the same objects on the shelves and queue up to pay at the cash register, with many not sticking to the two-metre rule. There is certainly more physical contact between supermarket workers and shoppers – at the cheese counter, fruit and vegetable sections, butcher etc – than there is in churches among the congregation.

So while one understands that, as had happened in the first months of the pandemic, supermarkets are kept open because they are considered to be essential outlets, it is less understandable that churches were closed.

When, last year, we were at the initial stages of the pandemic, so little was known about the spread of the virus and there was no vaccination campaign going on, the Church had not complained that Masses had been stopped. But now, a year later, it is making its voice heard and, although the archbishop did not say the word, the Church thinks that there is some kind of discrimination against it.

What the archbishop was also saying is that the government should reconsider the reopening of churches when restrictions are revised. We’ll know more later this week.

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