Churches in New Zealand will be closed as the government moves to put the country in complete lockdown tomorrow.
Wellington Cardinal John Dew told NZ Catholic there seems to be no other action to take.
“As we move into Alert level Four it would seem to me that there is no other action than to keep Church buildings closed,” he said.
“The Government has been very clear about telling everyone to stay in their homes. Therefore, it would be wrong if we kept Church buildings open and allow people to go in and touch surfaces etc from which the virus can be easily transmitted, and we would have not way of ensuring that people kept social distancing.”
In an update to clergy and lay pastoral leaders, he said, “the danger of the virus transferring from surfaces is very real, these surfaces may be door handles, Church pews, votive candles stands, and any surface that is touched. We are called to be good citizens who take responsibility for others and ourselves, therefore the Churches from now on are to remain closed in order to limit the spread of the virus.”
Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn directed the clergy to close all churches in the diocese “prior to 11.30 pm on Wednesday 25 March until further notice”.
“Mass will not be celebrated publicly, nor will there be other celebrations such as Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Stations of the Cross,” Bishop Dunn said.
He added that baptisms and wedding should be delayed if possible.
Hamilton Bishop Stephen Lowe expressed sadness over this decision.
“With our moving to Covid-19 Alert Level 3 yesterday and to complete lockdown tomorrow evening with Covid-19 Alert Level 4 and because of the associated restrictions, I have made the heart-breaking decision that all the churches in the Diocese will be closed for the duration of the lockdown,”Bishop Stephen Lowe said in a pastoral letter today (March 24).
“There was a beautiful tradition in the past when people would bless themselves as they passed a Catholic church knowing that the Blessed Sacrament is reserved there,” Bishop Lowe said.
“If you pass a church when out on your solo exercise or driving to the supermarket or pharmacy, this is something you might like to do, praying that we may return as a community of faith to our houses of prayer in the near future.”
In Christchurch diocese’s Facebook page, the decision was announced last night to close all churches starting midnight of March 23.
The diocesan post said priests will continue to offer Mass privately for people as well as for the eradication of the virus.
Dunedin Bishop Michael Dooley said they will be guided by the government “and would certainly encourage people to stay in their homes in this lockdown period”.
“We will check Ministry of Health guidelines but it may be possible for churches to continue to remain open during the day for people to make individual visits and pick up newsletters etc,” Bishop Dooley said.