"When I wrote to the Prime Minister in May 2020 our churches were still closed," he recalled. "There was no access, even for personal prayer. As the regulations began to be relaxed, allowing non-essential shops to open, I felt it important that churches too should be opened, as a matter of equity."
"I believed that with supervision and hygiene regimes in place, our churches could be just as COVID-secure as supermarkets and other shops. I know this was the view held by the other bishops too."
He continued: "Sacred space matters for Catholics. We can and should pray anywhere and everywhere. But our faith is powerfully sacramental. It centers on Christ's Eucharistic presence from which we draw the strength to live in holiness and serve others."
"Even while the public celebration of the Mass was not permitted, I felt that opening our churches and allowing people to pray before the Lord, in the tabernacle and the monstrance, was an important step forward."
"A parishioner wrote to me to say the first day she was able to enter the church again for adoration, she sat and wept with joy before the Lord."
Wilson expressed gratitude that the authorities have permitted public worship to continue during the country's third lockdown, which began on Jan. 5.
"I thank those within Parliament who spoke in favor of this, acknowledging the important place that religious belief, and the charitable service that flows from it, continue to play in the lives of many people and our society as a whole," he commented.
Wilson thinks it is too early to tell if the pandemic will leave the Church in Southwark stronger or weaker.
"I think the Church in our archdiocese will definitely be different because of the pandemic. For many Catholics, not being able to attend Mass, or pray in church, or participate in any parish activities, has awakened and heightened the importance of their Catholic faith and practice," he said.
"It's true that sometimes we only realize the value of what we have when it's taken away. Hopefully, we will all be strengthened to cherish what matters most about the life of faith, both individually and together."
"For some Catholics, the pandemic will have challenged their sense of Catholic identity and belonging. Absence does indeed often make the heart grow fonder; but it depends on what was there beforehand, on what really touched our hearts and motivated our discipleship."
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"Sadly, some may not return to practicing their faith as they did before the pandemic. My encouragement, and my hope, is for everyone to please return. We must do everything we can, now and in the future, to reach out to people in our parishes and local communities."
Wilson believes that lockdowns have helped the Church to refine its approach to online prayer, worship, catechesis, and fellowship.
"While there is no substitute for being present in person at the celebration of the Mass, the use of technology in the service of evangelization and spirituality offers all kinds of possibilities," he said. "We need to harness the best of this and carry it forward."
But he added that there was no denying the severe economic impact of the virus.
"Our parishes rely on the generosity of their parishioners. We will need to see how parish income is affected by any economic downturn," he said.
"There are also likely to be more people in need post-pandemic. We will need to continue to support those facing increased poverty and hardship."