'Protecting people' will be key to reopening Catholic churches in Yorkshire

Protecting volunteers and clergy will be key to ensuring Roman Catholic churches are ready to re-open, the Bishop of Hallam has said.

The Bishop of Hallam Rt Rev Ralph Heskett pictured at the Cathedral of St Marie, Norfolk Street, Sheffield. Picture by Simon Hulme

The Rt Rev Ralph Heskett, whose diocese covers South Yorkshire, parts of the High Peak and Chesterfield districts of Derbyshire, and Bassetlaw, said meetings were ongoing on how to re-open the approximately 70 catholic churches in the area, but that “it is important to get it right, it terms of making churches safe places to be”.

The Right Rev Heskett said: “I am looking forward to the day when we can celebrate mass and other services, but there are concerns that we get it right.

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“We are very clear that unless we have things in place, in terms of stewards and volunteers who are willing to make the long-term commitment to help with keeping the churches clean, we cannot open like before.”

Financial strain was just one of the impacts of the pandemic, and while the full extent was not yet known, it was expected to continue after opening, which the Government has said will not happen before July 4.

The Right Rev Heskett said: ”Sanitiser gels and detergents are not cheap, and we may also need to provide things like face coverings or shields, which we will have to provide. But we want to make sure people are comfortable when we do re-open our doors.”

Throughout the lockdown, clergy have remained in touch with parishioners and will continue to do so, he said.

He added: “It has been a strange couple of months, not being able to give face to face support to people. We have been streaming services - I was in the Cathedral on Sunday celebrating mass that was streamed, and our clergy have been very inventive in keeping in contact with the people in their parish, setting up WhatsApp groups and offering prayers and spiritual reflections.”