By ZENIT Staff

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. Bordens, 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 .

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 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 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 in the parishes. Some leaders 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.

Translation by Virginia M. Forrester

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