Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

09.07 13 Apr 2020


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A priest based in Co Laois said around 2,500 people watched or commented on an Easter Sunday mass he broadcast on Facebook Live.

The strict social distancing measures in place mean parishes have been unable to welcome people into churches for religious services - including the traditionally busy masses over the Easter period.

Fr Paddy Byrne, a parish priest based in Abbeyleix and Raheen in Co Laois, spoke to Newstalk Breakfast about his own experiences of Easter 2020.

He observed: “The Church is at its best in situations of vulnerability, and I think the Christian message of hope, love, solidarity, kindness and goodness is being felt very much.

“[Easter is] a very big day where we connect with parishioners and people. It was a solitary day [yesterday], but thank god for the vehicle of modern media."

Fr Paddy says that while his own parish does have a website, the webcam is currently down which has been "fairly disastrous".

However, he noted: "Thanks to Facebook live… in my own little room across the way… I celebrated mass.

"I was surprised to see on my own Facebook live page during the day around 2,500 people looked at the mass and commented."

Fr Paddy said he has been "really taken by the gestures of kindness" from people during the current period, even "things like thumbs up and waves" from people while out for a walk within the 2km restrictions that remain in place.

He suggested: "There’s a sense of solidarity with one another.

“I do encourage everybody to breathe into the life and energy of hope.

“In a place like Abbeyleix, it’s a beautiful town… [we have] young people taking over the shops in terms of working and serving our needs… the elderly being so well-minded by their own families… young people just out and about in a very active and considerate way."

'Vaccine of hope'

Fr Paddy also raised his concerns about the impact the current situation can have on people's mental health.

He suggested: “Fear can take hold of people in a time like this - and my phone-line and my ministry is spending a lot of time with people who are absolutely crippled by fear.

"The Easter message can offer a huge vaccine of hope and peace of mind at this very difficult time."

One other challenge priests are currently facing is funerals, with only small numbers of people being allowed into churches.

Fr Paddy explained: “Because half the priests in Ireland are over the age of 70, the responsibility of those of us who are younger is bigger. We’re celebrating far more funerals: I think in the last 10 days, I’ve celebrated 12 funerals and another one today… it’s dreadful.

“Irish people are fantastic at reaching out at times of vulnerability, particularly when bereavement comes. But people are strong: I think there are ways we can offer solidarity [at the moment].

“I continue to celebrate requiem masses, but limited to ten people only. [However,] the neighbours come and stand at the gate - there are ways we can reach out, and people know that."

Main image: Fr Paddy Byrne

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