Archbishop Fisher leads action on coronavirus

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Mosaic, c1900 of the Virgin in the Rosary Basilica, Lourdes, France. PHOTO: Fr Lawrence Lew OP

Call to pray to Our Lady of Lourdes as guidelines released, primary school closed for cleaning

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has urged the faithful to pray to Our Lady of Lourdes for victims of the new coronavirus and those most at risk of contracting the disease.

“The Holy Father has called on the Church at this time to pray and fast for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic that has now killed thousands, is so disrupting lives and economies, and has closed even St Peter’s [Basilica] in Rome,” the archbishop said before the Solemn Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral on 15 March.

“We pray for the victims and their families, for health workers, and for the safety of those most at risk.

“As the government ramps up precautionary measures, we are likely to face various restrictions on the life of worship, but the Church is determined to play its part in keeping people safe and bringing them healthcare and pastoral care of the sick”.

The Archdiocese of Sydney on 13 March published its guidelines for coronavirus precautions on a dedicated page on its website sydneycatholic.org. It will update the guidelines as new information becomes available.

Archbishop Fisher OP at Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral on 15 March. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Consider Mass attendance

The archdiocesan guidelines reference the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference national recommendations for liturgies.

It also said individuals should “consider their own health, including any potential to infect others with a contagious disease, before attending a public liturgical celebration”.

So far, no Masses or other essential ministries and services have been cancelled, however from 16 March 16 “gatherings of more than 500 people will be banned and we are working with our parishes to communicate that with their parishioners”.

“Sydney Catholic Schools has a comprehensive plan ready to activate should the need arise for school closures and along with NSW Health and Catholic Schools NSW are regularly assessing risk mitigation strategies to ensure contingencies are in place for the protection of everyone in our school communities,” it said.

“Representatives from the Archdiocese are in communication with NSW Health and will provide updates as they become available.”

Leaving nothing to chance as St Christopher’s in Panania is closed

Sydney Catholic Schools (SCS) is “leaving nothing to chance” amid the city’s coronavirus outbreak, says its executive director Tony Farley who flagged the possibility of multiple school closures across the city.

St Christopher’s Catholic Primary School in Panania in Sydney’s south-west was the first in Sydney’s systemic system to shut on 16 March after a participant at a professional development event it hosted contracted COVID-19. It closed for one day as a precautionary measure.

Mr Farley told media that there is an “inevitability” about school closures in the current environment.

Executive director of Sydney Catholic Schools Tony Farley

“I understand the Government has to work through those issues and has to work in a considered way using all the advice available but I think that should happen sooner rather than later.”

In a statement, Mr Farley said SCS had been liaising closely with NSW Health which advises the risk of staff or student exposure is minimal. “That said, we want to take all possible precautions to ensure the continued health and safety of our school community,” he said.
“As a result, we have decided to close the school for one day to enable a thorough hygiene sweep.”

Teachers who attended the event on 12 March were asked to be tested for the virus and self-isolate. Mr Farley said the infected person was not a teacher at the 600-student school or any other Sydney Catholic School.

“The closure and precautionary self-isolation will give NSW Health the opportunity to trace anyone who may have had contact with the infected person and conduct the appropriate testing,” he said.

‘We are living in extraordinary times’

“Closing a school, even for just one day, may seem to be an extraordinary measure but we are living in extraordinary times,” Mr Farley said.

“Sydney Catholic Schools is constantly monitoring advice provided by the Australian Government and NSW Health and will continue to take all necessary steps to keep our students and staff safe”.

Clergy will minister on virus frontlines

Archbishop Fisher said that priests would continue to serve the sick, elderly and frail, including those suffering from COVID-19 “as in all times of emergency”.

“Friends, we have sadly seen a number of people die from coronavirus (COV19) here in Sydney and elsewhere,” he wrote in a Facebook message.

“Let us entrust ourselves to the patroness of the sick, Our Lady of Lourdes, as we pray for eternal life for them, consolation for their loved ones and healing for those who are ill at this time.

“Please also remember our health workers in your prayers.”

Clergy would continue to minister to the most vulnerable by “absolving and anointing the sick, distributing Holy Communion to them, blessing and praying with them”, the archbishop said.

Jesus Christ’s mother under the title of Our Lady of Lourdes is known as the pre-eminent patron saint of the sick.

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