Archbishop of Montreal, Most Reverend Christian Lépine, emphasizes through his message that " spiritual nourishment is absolutely necessary, even more so during the present pandemic.''
The government’s role during this pandemic is crucial and decisive. It must closely monitor scientific and public-health recommendations, attend to the needs of the population as a whole as well as to various groups and their representatives, assess the situation and make decisions. On Tuesday, February 9, the government announced new measures applicable during the spring break, in recognizing and responding to the needs of families. It will present a follow-up to these measures on March 2 as was announced.
The following reflections deal with the importance of taking spiritual needs into account, as well. If physical health is important, so are our psychological and social needs, and we are beginning to understand how crucial it is to be open to these other dimensions.
Indeed, we must adapt a holistic approach to the human person, one that takes into account the many facets of human existence: the personal, familial and spiritual, as well as the community-related, social and economic.
If stores and shopping centres are open to the public under compliance with appropriate measures, there is no reason why places of worship should not operate under the same conditions.
The petition "Christians, let us save Easter!" has been circulating since the end of January; it is the heartfelt cry of believers, expressing the deep yearning in their souls to nourish their spiritual life. It represents the conviction of many believers, regardless of religious affiliation. Grappling with various confinement conditions for a year now, people worldwide are caught in the grip of this ordeal, leading many to reflect both on the meaning of life and on personal priorities. This awakening underscores the importance of the spiritual dimension for all, whether a believer or not.
Our extensive pastoral team, comprising diocesan and parish personnel, witness the need for spiritual nourishment on a daily basis, expressed by both believers and spiritual seekers alike. We hear of their hunger for silence and reflection, of their need to visit a place of worship, to be in a house of prayer and a supportive environment as they seek to uncover what is truly essential.
Although various initiatives have been undertaken during confinement, including broadcasting Masses and posting numerous videos, these means of communication cannot replace the impact – or the necessity – of being physically, personally present, even if that presence is somewhat reduced.
Physical presence is fundamental for our overall sense of wellbeing, because praying together, in nourishing the soul, has a reciprocal beneficial effect on our mind and body and on how we engage as social beings. Spiritual nourishment is absolutely necessary, even more so during the present pandemic.
We all share the same concern to protect both the general health of the public and the wellbeing of those in places of worship, whether they frequent them regularly or simply stop by for a visit. Responses such as setting up welcoming teams and implementing numerous preventive measures – including two-metre distancing, disinfection of hands and premises, church ventilation and the wearing of masks – have proven their value in preventing the spread of contagion.
In these circumstances, we are convinced that allowing church attendance, while observing the prescribed sanitary measures, is both possible and desirable. As long as preventive measures are required, churches and places of worship will respect them.
With well-prepared welcoming teams, high ceilings, numerous doors to facilitate ventilation, gathering times lasting less than one hour and no singing permitted, among other measures, we are able to ensure the physical safety of the faithful in our churches and, at the same time, take care of their spiritual wellbeing.
If, for instance, the authorities allow 30 percent capacity in our churches and places of worship – which would easily accommodate the two-metre physical-distancing requirement – the detailed and rigorous health measures submitted to public-health authorities by Quebec’s “Interfaith Consultation Table” will ensure that the spiritual wellbeing of individuals can be nourished and their physical health protected at the same time.
The question of health remains paramount, but let us never forget that spiritual needs are essential needs, too. In this regard, any adaptation of the regulations based upon church size/dimensions will most assuredly benefit the wellbeing of individuals as well as that of the common good.
Archbishop of Montreal
February 23, 2021