Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has emphasised that vaccination must not be a barrier to communion with Christ Jesus.
His comments come as the NSW Government announced that churches in Sydney would begin to reopen once 70 percent of the adult population in the state has had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Archbishop Fisher said he has been in discussions with the NSW Government and NSW Health, joining with other religious leaders in insisting that worship is an essential service, not mere recreation for many people.
“We explained that all our faiths are inclined to allow all comers to worship, that many pastors and faithful would be uneasy with restricting worship to the fully vaccinated and that doing so could prove very divisive”, he said.
“Race, gender, ethnicity, age, education, wealth or health status (including vaccination) must not be points of division within the Christian community or barriers to communion with Jesus”.
Archbishop Fisher said he was committed to ensuring a safe return to worship for everyone.
“We are working with a leading infectious diseases and risk management specialist to devise a plan that would allow for safe reopening of churches and safe return to worship for all. Some easing of restrictions on both outside and indoor Masses is on the near horizon. Greater numbers will also be allowed at weddings and funerals. And other sacraments including Baptism and Confirmation and devotions should also be possible”, he added.
Monica Doumit, Director, Public Affairs and Engagement with the Archdiocese of Sydney, said that churches have been open to people from millennia without distinction “and that’s the way we want it to continue”.
“Over the past 18 months we’ve demonstrated that we can open in a COVID-safe manner and we believe we have earned the trust of government and of health officials,” Ms Doumit said.
“What we would like to see is that as we progress towards reopening, that government and health officials will work with us to find a way that we can reopen to everybody because faith and worship is for everybody.
“In many ways it’s a great equaliser.”
In a statement outlining the state government’s much-anticipated ‘roadmap’ out of strict lockdown of Greater Sydney and other parts of the state, Deputy Premier John Barilaro said that only fully vaccinated people will “have access to the freedoms allowed” once the whole state reaches the 70 per cent full vaccination milestone.
Listed under the freedoms for fully vaccinated adults was that churches and places of worship could open subject to one person per 4sqm rule, with no singing.
Masks will remain compulsory for all indoor public venues, including churches and on public transport, retail and business premises.
Archbishop Fisher said he understands the longing on the part of many Catholics to be able to return to Mass as soon as possible.
“I will continue to work with other faith leaders to advocate on your behalf. When we have something more concrete, I will let you know. In the meantime, please do not be too concerned or jump to any conclusions over media reports. There is still a long way to go before NSW reaches 70 or 80 percent.”
“Please also pray for your church and civic leaders as we aim to work together to have our churches and community open and functioning again. With the other bishops and priests I am praying daily for you”.
The government has indicated that when 80 percent of NSW residents have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, it will ease restrictions further to also cover international travel, community sport and major events.
This article was originally published on 9 September 2021.