German cardinal says it’s 'high time' to restore public Masses

woelki portrait Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki. | Jochen Rolfes/Archdiocese of Cologne.

A German cardinal has said it is "high time" to restore public liturgies as the country begins to ease lockdown measures.

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne said that Masses with congregations should be permitted "as soon as possible" after German Chancellor Angela Merkel signaled that smaller shops and schools could reopen in the coming weeks.

Cardinal Woelki told CNA Deutsch, CNA's German-language news partner, April 17: "Without throwing these rules overboard, it is high time to make public services possible again. I am not thinking of a return to normality as we knew it before the coronavirus crisis. Of course, it is much too early for that."

"The hygiene regulations must continue to be adhered to, the distance rules and much more. We have all learned new things and will also practice them conscientiously. But services should now be permitted again as soon as possible within a precisely defined framework."

On Thursday, April 16, the cardinal met with Armin Laschet, Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, the western German state in which Cologne is located.

Afterwards, he thanked Laschet via Twitter for his commitment to easing restrictions on public worship as quickly as possible.

While social distancing and other precautions were essential, the cardinal said that the practice of religion was a basic right.

"Therefore, religious services must be permitted under conditions, the earlier the better," he wrote. "The longing of the people for pastoral care, orientation and worship is great right now."

CNA Deutsch reported the Cologne archdiocese is drawing up plans to restore public Masses while observing health and safety guidelines.

Other German bishops have also called for the easing of restrictions, including Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German bishops' conference, and Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstätt.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Woelki has written to children who were due to make their first Holy Communion. In the letter, dated April 19, he said that, while it was "a little sad" that first Holy Communion ceremonies had been canceled, the children had been given the "gift of time."

"The whole hectic rush of preparing the festival is now gone for the time being and you've been given extra time to really understand what's going to happen with your first Holy Communion," he wrote.

When they did eventually receive the Eucharist, he said, they would never be alone again and would have everything they needed to be "infinitely happy."

"What do you think," he asked, "isn't it worth it to wait a few more weeks longer?"

The cardinal's comments were echoed by Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck. In a letter to first Holy Communion children in his diocese of Essen, the bishop noted that the youngsters would be saddened by the delay.

"I am very sorry about this and I am sad about it too," he wrote.

He promised to pray for the children and encouraged them to pray for each other too.

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"It would be a beautiful sign of the communion to which Jesus wants to bring us together," he said.

Angela Merkel said April 15 that social distancing rules would remain in place until at least May 3. But smaller shops will be able to reopen from next week and schools will open their doors from May 4.

More than 139,000 people in Germany have tested positive for coronavirus. Relative to other countries with a high number of cases, Germany has seen fewer deaths, though more than 4,000 have died as of April 17, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

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