Archbishop pays tribute to those ‘wrapping a blanket of prayer and compassion’ around Ireland

Archbishop pays tribute to those ‘wrapping a blanket of prayer and compassion’ around Ireland Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring

Archbishop Eamon Martin has paid tribute to priests and pastoral workers who are reaching out to those who feel frightened and vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at Mass this morning in the Cathedral of Saints Patrick and Colman in Newry, the country’s most-senior Churchman said “it is heart-warming to note the large number of people, including many young people, who have already volunteered their help to health services, to reaching out to the vulnerable, to operating friendly phone call and online messaging services and assisting others to get online for prayer.

“I also appreciate the efforts of our priests, hospital chaplains, religious and pastoral workers, many of whom are vulnerable themselves, and who are wrapping a blanket of prayer and compassion around us during these trying times – keeping in touch with the sick, the elderly and those living alone, praying or reading God’s Word with them over the phone or online, and ensuring continuity of prayer, care and pastoral services,” Archbishop Eamon said.

He said that “this past week it has dawned on us that our normal behaviours and lifestyle must change radically if we are to halt the destructive spread of Covid-19.

“It is challenging the way we live, pray, relate and do business. There is so much talk of restrictions and social distancing and self-isolation; we are asked to keep apart from others; our normal instincts for closeness and tenderness must be checked in order to keep ourselves and others safe.

“Thankfully social media and electronic communication have allowed us to keep in touch with our loved ones, to maintain essential services in business and trade and to sustain a network of prayer to connect us spiritually during these trying times,” the archbishop said.

Referring to the fact that most public Masses are now suspended, Archbishop Eamon said that “the challenge that we all face is how to maintain spiritual ‘closeness’, compassion and solidarity during a time of necessary social distancing and avoidance.

“This Lent, like no other, we are learning the meaning of self-sacrifice and self-denial for the greater good. Our health workers are pleading with us to take the restrictions seriously, to maintain hand-washing and good hygiene, not just to protect ourselves, but so that we can delay and lessen the surge in infections and thereby contribute positively to the common good,” he said.

Archbishop Eamon told those joining him in the online Mass from the cathedral in Newry that “Jesus spoke of the greatest commandment as being the commandment to love – to love God and to love neighbour as yourself; we are learning through this crisis that every single one of us can contribute to spreading that love to help protect the most vulnerable.

“Social distancing may be essential for this world at this time, but lockdown never applies to God, who is always near,” he said.

The archbishop said that he is heartened that Catholics “continue to gather for prayer – no longer physically in most cases – but linked over the internet as a congregation in spiritual communion with one another.

|After Mass on St Patrick’s Day, which was beamed over the webcam from the cathedral in Armagh, I received messages from Singapore, Washington and Madrid, from Coalisland, Buncrana and London – people telling me that they were pleased to be able to share with me in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

“I may be looking out at empty pews, but in my mind’s eye and with the eyes of my heart, I can see you in your living rooms, in nursing homes, hospital wards or perhaps driving in your cars, all linked spiritually in the ‘family of families’ that is the Church,” he said.

The archbishop said that “during these days I want to assure you that the family of God that is the Church continues to gather around you, the Church continues to accompany you along this valley of darkness and fear, with prayer, consolation and hope – like the gentle Good Shepherd, like a loving Mother – always at your side”.