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France is to allow religious services after two month Covid-19 closure

The priest of the traditional Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet catholic church in Paris was fined 135 euros for flouting coronavirus lockdown laws when he held an Easter Vigil mass. As of 23 May, French believers are allowed to worship in public places again.
The priest of the traditional Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet catholic church in Paris was fined 135 euros for flouting coronavirus lockdown laws when he held an Easter Vigil mass. As of 23 May, French believers are allowed to worship in public places again. © Jastrow/Wikicommons public domain
3 min

France is allowing religious services to resume as of Saturday, after a legal challenge to the government's ban on such gatherings. Religious leaders welcomed the decision but said it will take time to put the necessary safety measures in place.

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To prevent further spread of the coronavirus, visitors to French places of worship must wear masks, wash their hands upon entering, and keep a distance of at least one metre (three feet) from other people.

The announcement coincides with the celebration of The Ascension of the Lord this weekend, ahead of next weekend's Pentecost mass, important events in the Catholic calendar.

Essential part of daily life

"When life goes back to normal in the country, it's natural that religious life also goes back to normal," Pierre Amar, of the Versailles diocese told France Info, expressing his joy at being able to resume services.

"It's a fundamental right and an essential need for worshippers."

"In my church, we will only be able to welcome around 100 people when normally we can host 600," he said.

He explained that his church would put on several smaller masses over the weekend all while respecting social distancing and hygiene measures such as masks and gel.

However, the French Conference of Priests says only churches that are ready to re-open will do so and that they must be well prepared.

Mosques not open yet

The French government had banned religious services until 2 June even though stores and other businesses started reopening last week.

The Council of State, the country's highest administrative body, struck down the ban, and the government published a decree Saturday allowing services to resume.

The French Bishops Conference said it would work with church leaders to prepare for reopening, notably for Pentecost Sunday services May 31.

The rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris said that it will not be ready to reopen for services Sunday marking Eid al-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Tarek Oubrou, an imam in Bordeaux told France Info that mosques would need more time to prepare as the culture of prayer was different.

"We will have to teach people to change their behaviour," he said, adding that worshippers will be selected at random to attend services, to reduce numbers and the elderly will be encouraged to stay at home.

"Muslim prayer is a bit different in that people are kneeling on the ground. They are usually placed very close to one another, their bodies touch. So it's going to be a challenge."

(with wires)

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