Coronavirus: Catholics and Protestants unite to answer COVID-19 call to pray

Catholics and Protestants across Ireland have united in a Palm Sunday call to pray in the face of the common threat they face from COVID-19.

Denominations from both sides of the religious divide had asked their members to kneel together for prayer at the same time in their separate homes.

Earlier, Archbishop Eamon Martin, leader of Ireland’s 3.5 million Roman Catholics led mass in an empty St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh.

He said: “When people think of Ireland, they think of divisions and differences, even the scandal of difference within the Christian family.

“The coronavirus has taught us that borders and barriers and divisions are irrelevant.

“This virus is everywhere and it’s all around us.”

Separated by the restriction on public gatherings, many who would usually attend church services welcomed the opportunity to pray together.

Jasper Rutherford, one of those behind the initiative, said: “One of the beautiful things that has happened with this call to pray is that there’s been a rising up of a collective Christian voice right across the island of Ireland.”

Amy Barry, a Methodist from Dublin who participated in the event, explained: “Prayer is important to me and although we are unable to physically be together, we have found a way to continue to connect.”

Some churches were streaming their services online before the current crisis but many are now doing so, a virtual response to an increasing pastoral need.

Ireland, like many places, had witnessed a sharp decline in church attendance – but denominations across Ireland are reporting a sudden increase in participation, with people worshipping online instead of in the pew.

Dr Arthur Cassidy, a psychologist, believes it is the fear of death that causes people to look towards the transcendent.

He said: “A man said to me two days ago, I don’t know whether I’ll be dead by the weekend and he’s a perfectly healthy person.

“The more we hear about death and the immanency of death and the rising statistics, which are simply phenomenal, then people are beginning to question where will I be if I die?”

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