Socially-distanced queues in west Belfast as priest hears confessions

There were socially-distanced queues at a west Belfast church as a Catholic priest heard confessions.

Father Paddy McCafferty of Corpus Christi in Ballymurphy was kept busy for an hour on Saturday as parishioners waited in line.

He sat in front of the church behind the gates while those making their confessions stood about two metres in front of him.

Coronavirus – Sat May 2, 2020
Fr Paddy McCafferty hears confessions while observing social distancing though the locked gates of Corpus Christi Church in Ballymurphy, West Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)

“I started hearing confessions at 11.40 and I was kept busy for about an hour with a constant stream of people, with everybody observing social distancing,” he told the PA news agency.

“As they came to me outside the church, there was a two-metre distance, maybe more.

“There was no one close to them to hear what they were saying and it was easy for me to hear what they were saying.

“Everything was observed, the sanctity and privacy as well as protecting people from the virus.

“I intend to do it again next week and so on until we are able to get people back into the church again.”

Fr McCafferty said previously he had been hearing confessions by appointment, meeting parishioners outside the church at a safe distance.

“Before Easter I did the same, I was outside the church and people were coming but I decided to stop that as we went into Holy Week because the worry at that time was the virus was going to peak, so I didn’t want anyone at all leaving the house un necessarily,” he said.

“There is nothing to stop you hearing confessions from people provided you observe all the precautions.

“I am aware of other priests who are doing it too. We are not breaching any of the safety mechanisms and it does help people.

“A lot of people were very moved to be able to do it, and we have to comfort people and strengthen them in every way possible.

“They are deprived of the Eucharist at the moment on account of the situation, to be able to give any comfort and strength to people is so important.”

Coronavirus – Sat May 2, 2020
Fr Paddy McCafferty hearing confessions while observing social distancing though the locked gates of Corpus Christi Church in Ballymurphy, West Belfast. (Niall Carson/PA)

Fr McCafferty described the pandemic as a challenging time.

“When people are upset and you can’t comfort them in the way you would normally comfort a person, by putting your arm around them or trying to console them,” he said.

“At funerals in particular, it is desperately painful because we have to stand back, it’s just awful and it’s heartbreaking for them and everyone involved.

“It is what it is, we can’t do anything about it, we just have to make the best of the situation and hope and trust that this pandemic will pass.

“In the meanwhile we have to try help people.”

Mass services are being streamed online and last Sunday Father McCafferty drove around the parish in an open top car offering benediction with the Blessed Sacrament.

Posted by Corpus Christi Parish, Belfast. on Thursday, April 30, 2020

He described the feedback after that as “overwhelmingly positive”.

“People were greatly comforted and that was the purpose, to comfort people where they are, in their homes, at their gates, at their doors,” he added.

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