Today’s top stories from Premier Christian News. News you can believe in. Monday 1st June

Dozens of Catholic parishioners in West Belfast have been blessed with holy water at their doorsteps during lockdown.
A priest at the city’s oldest Catholic church, St Mary’s, visited residents struggling to remain in good spirits during the coronavirus restrictions.Some elderly parishioners have been remaining indoors most of the time, unable to attend Mass and with little ability to access internet sermons, Irene Leckey, who helped organise the event, said.

She said: “People were struggling with mental health because of the isolation from their families.

“Many people almost wanted the priest to hear their confessions, talking about their feelings.

“It was a relief for the people to be able to speak to the priest privately.

“As much as it was at their own door they were able to speak privately with the priest giving the blessing.”

Ms Leckey, 52, distributed bottles of blessed holy water because people were unable to visit church to pick up their own supplies.

Fr Timothy Bartlett from St Mary’s and a deacon gave blessings.

Ms Leckey added: “A lot of them were very emotional today, very grateful.

“Fr Tim wanted to keep the connection between the people and the church.”

They blessed the houses from a distance due to social distancing requirements.

Ms Leckey said: “They had realised how many people were missing the church.”

May 31 was Pentecost Sunday, the festival when many Christians celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Fr Bartlett said: “This was a community inviting us to help them – to be a church in the streets.

“That is when the church is always at it best, when it is a church of the people, driven by the people in the streets and responding to their spiritual needs.”

He said there was a sense that perhaps society was moving slowly in the right direction as pandemic restrictions eased.

“We thought it was important to respond to the people and come to them.”

Fr Tim Bartlett from St Mary’s Church in Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

He said that was what the church did during penal times in 17th century Ireland, when people worshipped in secret at Mass rocks.

“We are seeing that again essentially in times of trouble and they wanted us to help them give expression to that.

“The church of the streets, as Pope Francis says, is the church at its best.

“The church is ultimately about a church of faith rather than about individuals and this was a community inviting us to help them.”

‘It’s time for the phased reopening of churches’: Cardinal Nichols joins call to review lockdown measures

by Heather Preston

Cardinal Vincent Nichols is the latest in a stream of Christian leaders calling for the re-opening of churches in the UK.The Archbishop of Westminster has questioned why places of worship have not been prioritised in the Government’s latest measures to ease lockdown restrictions.

Starting on Monday, commercial businesses including car showrooms and outdoor markets will be allowed to re-open their doors with all non-essential retailers free to follow suite from 15th June.

Speaking at his homily for Pentecost Sunday, Cardinal Nichols said this decision by the Prime Minister “questions directly the reasons why our churches remain closed”.

“We are told that these openings, which are to be carefully managed, are based on the need to encourage key activities to start up again. Why are churches excluded from this decision?” he added.

As churches including Westminster Cathedral remain closed across the UK, Nichols remarked of the important role faith plays in our society, particularly during the current crisis: “as a motivation for the selfless care of the sick and dying; as providing crucial comfort in bereavement; as a source of immense and effective provision for those in sharp and pressing need; as underpinning a vision of the dignity of every person, a dignity that has to be at the heart of the rebuilding of our society.”

He reasoned that the opening of church buildings “even if just for individual prayer”, would help to “nurture this vital contribution to our common good”.

“Opening churches must be done safely”, he stressed and explained that expert guidance had been developed to ensure Government recommendations could be followed and no person would be at risk.

“The benefits of being able to access places of prayer is profound, on individual and family stability and, significantly, on their willingness to help others in their need.

“It is now time to move to the phased opening of our churches, he added.”

This comes as a number of UK Bishops and church leaders have written to the government seeking an urgent review of lockdown measures that uniformly ban churches from opening.

The letter warns that the group intend to take legal action if the ban is not addressed.