ROME: Italy will lift the ban on public Masses from May 18, as part of an agreement to allow Catholics to attend liturgical celebrations following restrictions due to the coronavirus crisis.
The government is also expected to allow those from other faiths, including Muslims and Jews, to gather for their own religious services, though no date has yet been set for the reopening of mosques.
All religious services were forbidden by the national lockdown, whose measures were eased last Monday after nearly two months.
The deal — signed by the president of the Italian Conference of Bishops (CEI), Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese — followed tough negotiations in which Pope Francis intervened, urging Italian Catholics to follow scientists’ advice.
The agreement does not refer to a maximum number of faithful allowed to gather. The parish priest will be in charge of identifying “the maximum capacity of the church building” that can guarantee “compliance with the legislation on social distancing,” it reads.
As is mandatory for all enclosed spaces, congregation members must observe a 1-meter distance between themselves, with volunteers at the entrance — wearing masks and gloves — admitting people one at a time, even if they belong to the same household.
All worshippers will have to wear facemasks while inside the building, as will the priest, who will have to wear gloves too.
Worshippers will be encouraged to wear gloves to take communion, which will be given on the hand rather than in the mouth.
Church buildings will have to be specially cleaned before and after every service. No song or Mass books can be distributed to the congregation, and no choir or groups of musicians will be allowed to accompany the ceremony.
“Even if it’s not required by the new regulations, I’ve already bought a temperature scanner and a machine sanitizing my entire church in 10 minutes,” Father Federico Tartaglia, the parish priest at the Holy Nativity Church in Rome, told Arab News.
“As summer is coming and we have a porch in front of the church, we’ll try to celebrate Mass outside as much as we can,” he added.
“The No. 1 priority is to preserve people’s health, but I’m so happy to say Mass again with my congregation. We’ve been separated for too long because of the lockdown. I hope this will be a new start.”
Bassetti said the deal is “the fruit of a deep collaboration and synergy between the government, the (coronavirus) technical and scientific committee and the CEI, in which each played its part responsibly.” He added that the Church is committed to helping overcome the COVID-19 crisis.
Conte said the agreement will ensure that Masses resume “in the safest way possible,” adding: “I thank the CEI for the moral and material support it is giving the whole national community in this difficult moment for the country.”
Lamorgese said the deal is “an excellent result.” Her ministry was criticized last week after a video, which went viral on social media, showed a policeman interrupting a Mass with only two people in attendance, and shouting at the priest on the altar to “quit and go away.”
The police chief apologized to the priest for the patrol’s “rough manners,” but said it was only enforcing the lockdown legislation.
Lamorgese will now have to work on agreements with other religious communities so they can reopen their places of worship.
She held a videoconference with representatives of all confessions to identify ways to allow rites to resume without risk.
The Union of Islamic Communities in Italy (Ucooi) welcomed the upcoming resumption of Catholic worship.
“We are now waiting to know from the government the date for the reopening of prayer halls and mosques,” it said in a statement, highlighting the “specificity” of the Muslim community now experiencing the “sensitive and particular rituality” of the month of Ramadan.
“Clear answers on the celebration of Eid Al-Fitr on May 24 will be necessary at the soonest. We also hope for a wider collaboration with the local authorities so that outdoor spaces can be used by the communities in the safest way,” the statement added.
Ucooi urged all Muslim communities in Italy to “diligently comply” with the rules outlined in government sanitization protocols, and to respect social distancing during this “transitory phase which we hope can end as soon as possible.”