By Joseph Kelly
Cardinal Vincent Nichols has called on people to “not think solely of ourselves, but to think of others” in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking to presenter Nick Robinson on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning, the Cardinal was detailing action the Catholic Church is taking to mitigate the spread of the virus, but still minister to the faithful.
Here is the full transcript of the interview:
NR: “Many people at a time of stress or anxiety like this would be tempted to go to church, perhaps more often than they normally do and yet they are reading that, for example in Rome, the churches have closed. Have you yet made a decision whether Catholic churches can stay open in this country?”
VN: “Well, we follow official advice, and obviously that phrase ‘the right thing at the right time’, that’s what we are preparing for. Now, we are preparing for a time when the churches should not be used for bringing big numbers of people together, so we might come to an end of the celebration of Mass or other services.
“But, in my view, the churches will always remain open because churches are places where people can go, they can sit quietly, they can pray. There’s plenty of space in them, there’s no health risk but the presence of the Church and the space that it offers will be very important in the coming months.”
NR: “And the regular Sunday service, the daily Masses, it may become necessary relatively soon for those to be suspended?”
VN: “Yes, were preparing for that and obviously one of the greater advantages that we have now is that we can stream these celebrations even if the priest is there with one helper; we can stream them and people can join in from home and gather if they wish on a Sunday to follow the Mass to say their prayers together in that virtual link with its formal celebration …”
NR: “… because even without being online, Cardinal, it’s the case already isn’t it that Communion isn’t what it normally is, you’ve had to limit it ….”
VN: “Yes, that true for some time now we’ve been adjusting our behaviour within the celebration of Mass to minimise those points at which infection might be passed on. And people have been very, very sensible about this. These are not the essential parts of the Mass and you know we are mature, we are calm and that’s what I hope everyone would be – co-operative and calm. This is a long haul and well take it gently and steadily and very seriously.”
NR: “Now, there’s another crucial part of Mass and every service, and it’s true in other services and other faiths as well, and that’s the Sign of Peace; that’s the idea that we turn to a stranger, we give them a sign of peace by shaking hands, and already I think it’s a widespread practice isn’t it that already people are crossing their chest with their arms, and nodding or bowing in the direction of others …”
VN: “Yes, that’s right, and its very simple and its very sensible and it’s not a problem. Similarly with the distribution of Holy Communion, we are making adjustments there to minimise the risk. And it’s particularly a risk with saliva because we’re told that with 90% of people who have it the virus is present in their saliva. So we’ve got to be very careful with those things. We’re doing that, we’re well prepared.”
NR: “A sensitive subject, but desperately important to many people, is the role of a priest when the end of life is coming near. The visit to the elderly, the visit to the very sick, which is so important to people who have faith. Is it going to be possible to continue that practice?”
VN: “I believe so, and this is the advice we are getting. Government advice is mediated to the Churches through a few experts who understand public health issues and understand the life of the Church. We will visit people in their homes, taking the right kind of precautions, and we will follow in nursing homes and residential care the norms established by those homes. It might be in very extreme circumstances that physical presence might be impossible but for the vast majority of people I believe we will be able at the right time to bring the comfort of their faith, that consolation and their assurance of the life after death that awaits us all.”
NR: “Stepping back from the practicalities of running and being a priest in the Catholic Church, how do you sense that we as a society are dealing with this extraordinary challenge to what we have grown used to, what we have taken for granted in our daily lives?”
VN: “I think we have a nice balance to find between being determined and not panicking. I was upset yesterday when I heard of an eight year old who went to visit his healthy 70-year-old grandma and said to her: “grandma, are you going to die?” Now, that’s not a helpful message to be getting across.
“I think we have two principles deeply rooted in our culture from it’s Judeo-Christian tradition – one is ‘honour your father and your mother’ and the other is ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. So we’ve got to resist fear on the one hand and selfishness on the other, and I think there is a maturity in the people of this country to remember those two axioms and to live by them, to nurture and treasure the elderly, and not to think solely of ourselves, but to think of others even in practical things, like when we go shopping.”
NR: “Well, that is a thought for the day that we can all share, whether we have faith or not. Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, thank you.”