Catholics petition for equal treatment

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    A man enters St Mary’s Cathedral on 15 May after leaving his contact details at the door. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

    Churches are being ignored in easing of restrictions

    Australian Catholics are calling on NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to treat places of worship on par with other gathering places as pandemic restrictions are wound back from June 1.

    A petition launched by the Archdiocese of Sydney on 27 May asks for treatment equal to pubs and clubs, cafes and restaurants which will be permitted 50 people on site while the 10-worshipper limit in churches remains.

    Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP said that the double standards being applied to people of faith were “disappointing” and “cannot be ignored” at a time when a bus stopping outside St Mary’s Cathedral is allowed to hold more people than
     the cavernous building itself.

    “Churches have cooperated at every stage with the Government’s public health directives during this pandemic”

    There is also more than 10 times the capacity in the cathedral for the 4sqm social distancing requirement than for a typical restaurant “where people can be seated and dine for hours on end” the archbishop said.

    “Churches have cooperated at every stage with the Government’s public health directives during this pandemic,” he said.

    Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP is asking NSW Premier to lift strict restrictions on religious gatherings.

    “We understand that the shutdown was necessary to flatten the curve, but it came at a cost – not only to the economy, but also to the spiritual and mental health of our people.

    “They miss gathering for worship and praying in a sacred space. I am at a loss to explain to Catholics in Sydney why our reasonable requests to the government are not being granted.” 

    The petition comes after requests from faith communities to further lift restrictions in line with other gathering spaces were unsuccessful, and a growing number of religious and civic leaders call on the Premier to allow more people to gather safely for communal worship.

    “Contrary to what has been said throughout this pandemic, we do not consider church attendance to be non-essential; indeed, nothing is more essential than the practice of o
    ur faith,” reads the petition at openourchurches.com.au.

    “Catholics are not asking for special treatment, we are asking for equal treatment.

    “Catholics are not asking for special treatment, we are asking for equal treatment.”

    “This unequal treatment of religious worship leads us to ask whether the government is listening to the concerns of Catholics and other people of faith or indifferent to the effect the closure of our churches is having on people during these difficult times.

    “The freedom to practice faith is necessary for human flourishing and a great c
    ontributor to the common good.”  

    Parishioners observe social distancing guidelines at Mass at St Charles Borromeo in Ryde on 23 March, 2020. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

    Parish priest of St Francis Xavier Lurnea Father Thu Nguyen said his church has capacity for up to 500 people and believes that with hygiene and distancing precautions he could safely accommodate as many as 200 people at each weekend Mass – but he would be happy to at least increase from 10 to 50.

    “Our people love to come to church and although we have been live-streaming Masses many say it is just not the same and they are really missing receiving the Eucharist,” he said.

    Mirella Cassis, a youth leader at St Declan’s parish in Penshurst, said while she is grateful for live-streamed Masses she had found it difficult to engage with them and had missed the Eucharist and her friends.

    “I’m looking forward to more people attending Mass so that I can be around my faith community again,” she said. “I miss going to Mass with my friends, the people who have helped me keep my faith afloat in these times.”

    Alison de Sousa, a high school teacher and parishioner at St Felix de Valois in Bankstown, said that she and her friends were frustrated when they saw that places of worship had been grouped with the entertainment industry.

    “We saw there was a great misunderstanding of the place of our worship services, and its place in society,” Mrs de Sousa said.

    “Not being in church means we miss that interaction and also the ability to receive our Lord in the Eucharist.”

    Another Sydney priest who wished not to be named said the fact that church leaders have been strongly lobbying for equal treatment to no avail “is perhaps demonstrative of the attitude that our politicians now hold towards churches”.

    “Now is not the time to be meek and mild.”

    “Now is not the time to be meek and mild,” he urged his parishioners in an email today. “Now is to time to stand up and state that you wish your churches to be fully opened up.”

    Sign the petition here.


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