Catholic Church and state agree on date for return to Mass for the public.
Italy is to lift the ban on public Masses from 18 May as part of an agreement to allow the faithful to attend liturgical celebrations following restrictions due to the coronavirus emergency.
The deal was signed on 7 May by the president of the Italian Conference of Bishops (CEI) Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, Italy's premier Giuseppe Conte, and interior minister Luciana Lamorgese.
"The safety measures provided for in the text" - underlined Conte - "indicate the most suitable ways to ensure that the resumption of liturgical celebrations takes place in the safest way for public health and for the protection of the faithful."
Unlike the current arrangement for funerals, which can be attended by a maximum of 15 people, the new agreement does not refer to a maximum number of faithful who will be granted access to the liturgy.
Under the new deal, the parish priest will identify "the maximum capacity of the building" that can guarantee "compliance with the legislation on social distancing."
Members of the congregation must observe a one-metre distance between themselves, with volunteers at the entrance - protected by masks and gloves - to admit only the number of people that complies with the anti-contagion measures.
Entry to the church is provided only to those who wear protective face masks, while access will be prohibited to anyone with flu-like symptoms or high temperature or who has been in recent contact with coronavirus patients.
The traditional "sign of peace" handshake during Mass will continue to be omitted, while for Communion the priest must sanitise his hands, wear a mask and take care not to come into contact with the hands of the faithful.
The health measures for Masses will also apply to weddings, funerals and baptisms from 18 May.
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On 26 April, following Conte's announcement of Phase Two, the CEI issued a sharply-worded statement criticising the second phase of Italy's coronavirus plan which it said "arbitrarily excludes the possibility of celebrating Mass with the people."
Public Masses have been suspended across Italy since the government issued a decree on 8 March suspending all public religious ceremonies, including funerals which resumed on 4 May. Churches have remained open for private prayer however.
Italy’s ecclesiastical lockdown is the longest-running in the world, according to Crux, the online newspaper covering news related to the Catholic Church.
The government is now expected to allow other faiths to have limited gatherings of people for their own religious services, including Muslims, Jews and Protestants, reports Italian news agency ANSA.
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