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The following statement is in the name of Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland:

The unexpected news announced late last night that churches across Northern Ireland are to close for two weeks from 27 November has come as a great disappointment, and is contrary to the assurances given to faith groups at a meeting just last week at which we were praised for our attention to safety and public health.

Our parishes have consistently tried to support the Executive and public health authorities and we will do so again, but we would prefer to do so in mature partnership and dialogue. 

The Catholic Church always wishes to protect health and life and promote the Common Good and therefore will continue to play its part in making the necessary sacrifices, but we urgently request that the ban on public worship will be for the shortest period possible. 

I seek urgent clarification on the question of whether churches may open for individual visits and private prayer.  This issue was the subject of debate during the first lockdown and we were confident that it was understood that Churches are places of sanctuary, calm, and spiritual strength during this crisis.

I cannot understand how a person may still go to an off-licence to buy alcohol but might not be permitted to visit and sit in quiet solitary prayer in a large church.  The right to do this is particularly important for Catholics.

The restrictions will coincide with the beginning of the holy season of Advent, a sacred time of preparation for Christmas.  In speaking about “saving Christmas”, I urge the Executive to accept that for many people a “meaningful Christmas” is about more than shopping, eating and drinking.  Spiritual preparation is essential.

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