Bishop calls for Christmas “circuit breaker” in war on COVID

In an article in the Sunday Times (25 October 2020) Bishop John Keenan has called for a  Christmas “circuit breaker” comprising a 24-hour lifting of restrictions on gatherings and celebrations,  in the war on COVID on Christmas day. The full text of Bishop Keenan's article is shown below:

 

 

 

The recent advice from Scotland’s National Clinical Director Prof Jason Leitch that we should prepare for a “digital” celebration of Christmas, and the idea of a normal Christmas was a "fiction" with "absolutely no question" of a "normal" Christmas being allowed, was dismal news. As it came in the middle of renewed restrictions and talk of even further limitations on how we live our lives in the coming months, it is easy to see why so many people are succumbing to despair.

 

The government has told us that its latest Covid-19 restrictions are having an impact on the spread of the virus, causing a "deceleration" in the increase of cases. I hope that is true and that it will be possible to ease restrictions rather than tighten them as we move towards the end of the year.

 

Regardless of what limitations COVID might place on our lives, as Christians we are sure that Christmas will never be cancelled. No matter what difficulties we face, we will celebrate the joy and love, the kindness and good cheer that attend the celebration of the birth of Christ as we always do.

 

It could not have been easy for Mary and Joseph to celebrate under Roman occupation in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, for soldiers in the trenches of the First World War or for nations across Europe in the post war privations of 1945, but Christmas happened and millions gave thanks that a saviour was born. Christmas won’t be cancelled.

 

As Christians, we are people of hope, we live in hope and while we take the national restrictions seriously, we hope and pray that Christmas 2020 can be as normal as possible. We will do all we can even in very adverse circumstances, to focus on the reality of Christmas, hoping that adversity will bring us closer to that reality. Ultimately, our hopes are for love and joy, peace and good cheer in this world, not just the next.

 

Since the resumption of public worship our parishes have been meticulous in controlling infection to ensure the safety of all those who cross the threshold of a Catholic church.

 

On that basis, we have every confidence that our parishes will celebrate Christmas full of faith, hope and love. We also have confidence that society will still want to celebrate Christmas and hold on to as many traditions as it possibly can at such a traditional time of year.

 

We’ve already witnessed so many heroes who’ve emerged from among us. When times are hard, compassion and concern for one another can grow. Our key workers across the country bear living witness to our ability to forge solidarity in the face of adversity. COVID has brought out the best in us, caused us to value all that we have and think more about those who have least.

 

For all of us Christmas is the one time of year when shopping and all that goes with it is not about buying for ourselves, but about giving gifts to our families and loved ones.

 

It truly is a time of giving.  Giving time, company and love to others. It is a time when we enjoy being together with friends and family, especially elderly members of our families. We are moved by the joy and love of the season, motivated by the greatest act of love we can imagine, when God gave his only Son to the world.

 

The prospect of these acts of joy and love being taken from us would be a dispiriting and depressing one. We understand that the comments from Jason Leitch were an attempt to remind people of the sobering reality of a COVID Christmas.  

 

We also know that the government do hope that the situation will improve and what has been described as “a more family Christmas” will be possible.

 

Yet telling us that "We are not going to be in large family groupings, with multiple families coming round” or that we “should get our digital Christmas ready” in the hope that we won’t build up false hope runs the risk of destroying all hope. No one wants a digital Christmas.  Squashing false expectations is one thing, but no one wants to dampen people’s hopes.

 

Hope is perhaps the most precious commodity we possess. Without it we will fail to combat this pandemic, we will fail to care for ourselves and for others and we will fail to build a future for the next generation growing up in the midst of fear. We must be very careful that we do not extinguish hope, the consequences of that would be devastating.

 

So, what can we do? How can we bring some semblance of normality to a country afflicted by a global pandemic? Perhaps we should consider a Christmas “circuit breaker”. A 24-hour lifting of restrictions on gatherings and celebrations, a break in the war on COVID, just like the pause in the first world war on the Western Front in 1914, when the British and German troops laid down their guns and met in no man’s land to celebrate Christmas.

 

Couldn’t we allow for one day of normality in the midst of our relentless war against the virus? Think of the hope and happiness that would give. A moment of joy in the midst of so much despair. Great care would have to be taken, especially in relation to the elderly and the vulnerable. They would be at risk and caution would be essential, but what about the risks of emptiness, loneliness and hopelessness at what should be the happiest time of year? The effects of a depressed and isolated Christmas could be devastating for many, leaving an emotional and social legacy that no vaccine could cure.

 

Flattening the curve of infection rates has been a laudable goal of government policy this year. Rather than flatten the curve of hope, let’s lift our spirits with the prospect of a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

 

 

 

Bishop John Keenan

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