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Archbishop of Riga

FEATURE: Since ‘Man Does Not Live on Physical Bread Alone’, State Allowed Masses to Never Be Interrupted in Latvia (With Restrictions)

Sharing With ZENIT on Situation in Latvia During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Archbishop Stankevics of Riga Says: ‘We succeeded in convincing the State in this regard, that the spiritual food is no less important than physical food’

Archbishop of Riga, Zbigņevs Stankevičs, says Masses in Latvia have not been interrupted, but have safely, under prudent restrictions, taken place.

The Vice-President of the Latvian Bishops’ Conference shared this information with ZENIT, as he reflected on the Situation of the Catholic Church in Latvia during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The Latvian prelate provided the below statement to ZENIT, who has translated it into English below. In the text, the Archbishop explains concretely each measure of caution enacted in churches, and during sacraments, in order to ensure safety, and avoid contagion.

ZENIT followed the Pope’s September 2018 papal flight Pope Francis’ Apostolic Visit to the Baltic Countries, and interviewed the Archbishop of Riga, where he recalled Pope St. John Paul II’s visit to Latvia in 1993. During that time, the country had just come out of the long period of Soviet oppression.

Read ZENIT’s special after the Pope’s trip to the Baltics here.

In Latvia, Catholics are a small minority, relative to the Lutheran and Orthodox Churches. Catholics are less than a quarter of the population, next to Lutherans, 30%, Orthodox, under 20%, and other smaller denominations. The ecumenical collaboration is very strong among the Christians.

“It is thanks to the fact that in the preamble of the Latvian Constitution, Christian values, alongside universal national and human values, are mentioned as the foundation of Latvia,” Archbishop Stankevics told ZENIT in that 2018 interview.

The Archbishop of Riga explained to ZENIT in April 2020 how amid the pandemic worldwide, the Church in Latvia is providing for their faithful’s mental and spiritual health, with as little health risk as possible.

While Masses were able to continue, the number of faithful could not be more than 25 people, remained in force, as per law.

Recalling that the blessing of food before Easter is very popular in Latvia, he explained that this ceremony was “held in many places outside churches – in front of the entrance door. During Easter, the police monitored the respect of the restrictions in churches, however no minutes were drawn up.”

During the state of emergency funerals were permitted in Latvia, he noted, “but not in a church or chapel — only outside buildings, keeping a two-meter distance, and with the participation of those closest to the deceased.”

Marriages were celebrated in church or in the Registry Office, if it were possible to have the two-meter distance between those present. Only the official responsible (in the Church, the priest) could attend the ceremony, the newlyweds and two adult witnesses.

There were couples that decided to postpone the marriage ceremony to a future date, to celebrate the event more solemnly.

“Thus, in Latvia, all the Sacraments were celebrated only limiting the number of participants as much as possible,” he said.

“To justify our demands to the Government’s representatives, we explained that this type of position would reduce social tensions. Lately psychiatrists have pointed out the worsening of mental problems because of the restrictions. In this regard,” he explained, “the Church helps the society to maintain its psychological and mental health in times of crisis.”

“We succeeded in convincing the State in this regard, that the spiritual food is no less important than physical food: man does not live of bread alone.”

Below is a translation of his statement provided to Zenit English:

***

The Archbishop of Riga on the Situation of the Catholic Church in

Latvia during the COVID-19 Pandemic

During the state of emergency, the religious activity (Holy Mass, Confessions) in our country wasn’t interrupted, as happened in other countries. This shows how important the dialogue is between the State and the Church.

The state of emergency was introduced in Latvia on March 12. It was the State’s intention to ban all public enterprises. However, in the intense dialogue between the leaders of Christian Confessions and the Minister of Justice J. Bordans, it was agreed that the clergy should continue to celebrate Mass because it is their duty. Moreover, in Masses the participation was permitted of Ministers, Readers, and Singers., because the clergy can’t celebrate Mass on its own. It was also agreed that individual faithful could be in the church during the Holy Mass, but their number couldn’t be more than 50 people. However, at the same time the number of visitors of shops, bars and places of entertainment was not limited.

The restrictions were reinforced on March 30: the obligation was accepted of a distance of two meters between persons, as well as not more than two persons being together (exception: members of the same family). In this situation, during a conversation with the Minister an informal agreement was reached according to which a maximum of 25 people could stay in a church at one time and at a rigorous distance of two meters. The negotiations were carried out actively before Easter, because there were doubts about the fact that it would be possible to respect the said restrictions during the Celebrations. Initially, the State wanted to establish a rule that a person could stay in church for no more than 15 minutes, but we succeeded in annulling it. The preceding agreement, that the number of faithful could not be more than 25 people, remained in force.

The blessing of food before Easter is very popular in Latvia. This ceremony was held in many places outside churches – in front of the entrance door. During Easter, the police monitored the respect of the restrictions in churches, however no minutes were drawn up.

During the state of emergency funerals were permitted in Latvia, but not in a church or chapel — only outside buildings, keeping a two-meter distance, and with the participation of those closest to the deceased.

Marriages were celebrated in church or in the Registry Office, if it were possible to have the two-meter distance between those present. Only the official responsible (in the Church, the priest) could attend the ceremony, the newlyweds and two adult witnesses. There were couples that decided to postpone the marriage ceremony to a future date, to celebrate the event more solemnly. Thus, in Latvia, all the Sacraments were celebrated only limiting the number of participants as much as possible.

To justify our demands to the Government’s representatives, we explained that this type of position would reduce social tensions. Lately psychiatrists have pointed out the worsening of mental problems because of the restrictions. In this regard, the church helps the society to maintain its psychological and mental health in times of crisis. We succeeded in convincing the State in this regard, that the spiritual food is no less important than physical food: man does not live of bread alone.

The positive result was possible thanks to the openness of the representatives of the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior. The second factor that was very important in this dialogue was the the united position of all the Confessions, which the part of the State respected.

Recently we started negotiations with representatives of the Ministry of justice and other State structures, to give financial support to Catholic priests of Latvia and others committed inn the parishes. Some elders of other Confessions with fewer members turned to me, asking for help in the same question regarding their community. At present the State has begun a dialogue on this subject with all the Confessions in Latvia.

About Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, at times from the papal flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has done television and radio commentary, including for Vatican Radio, Sky, and BBC. She is a contributor to National Catholic Register, UK Catholic Herald, Our Sunday Visitor, Inside the Vatican, and other Catholic news outlets. She has also collaborated with the Vatican in various projects, including an internship at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and is a collaborator with NBC Universal, NBC News, Euronews, and EWTN. For 'The Other Francis': http://www.gracewing.co.uk/page219.html or https://www.amazon.com/Other-Francis-Everything-They-about/dp/0852449348/

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