Not all countries are following Italy’s lead, however. In Poland, despite the cancellation of big events and school closures, churches will continue to hold Sunday Mass. “Churches are like hospitals for the souls,” Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Gowin told TVN24 television. The Polish Catholic Church has even requested to increase the number of Masses so the church pews would be less crowded.
On Friday, the Polish government banned any events — including religious services — with more than 50 people. That hasn’t discouraged the Polish church, which said it would simply limit the number of believers in churches to keep services under the threshold. One archbishop even encouraged the faithful to use holy water: “Don’t be afraid to reach out for sacred water. Don’t be afraid of the church,” he said in a letter. Some churches have taken the decision to shut their doors, however.
Concerns about the impact of religious services have grown after it emerged that the husband of the first person to die of coronavirus in Poland was working as a priest’s aide and had given out Communion at a church. People who attended that Mass are now in quarantine.
Communion has also proven a divisive issue in Greece, where the Orthodox Church had stood firm on continuing its tradition of handing out bread soaked in wine, served to congregants from the same chalice, even as many other parts of the country closed down.
On Monday night, the Greek government stepped in and ordered the suspension of all services at all places of worship, for all religions. “Churches will remain open only for private prayer. Protection of public health requires clear decisions,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted.
The government was forced to intervene after yet another decision by the ruling body of the Orthodox Church which, after a more than five-hour meeting, decided to cut Sunday’s mass short from 7 to 8 am, but still allow people to attend.