Quebec places of worship allowed to reopen next week, but many bow out for now

With physical distancing measures in place, no more than 50 people will be allowed to gather together, and key parts of many services, such as singing and communion, will need to be modified to comply with public health rules.

With physical distancing in place, no more than 50 people will be allowed to gather together

In the first weeks of the pandemic, Father Rico Passero of Grimsby, Ont., taped photos of 400 parishioners at St. Joseph Catholic Church to the pews, so the community could feel like it's together for mass. Churches in Quebec will be able to reopen starting Monday, with physical-distancing rules in place. (St. Joseph Catholic Church)

After being closed for 100 days, offering online services only, places of worship will be allowed to reopen Monday with physical-distancing measures in place. 

Churches, synagogues, mosques and temples will need to respect the same guidelines as all other public indoor spaces, the government announced Wednesday. That means only 50 worshippers can gather at any one time, and everyone must stay two metres away from one another.

Rabbi Lisa Grushcow of the Temple Emanu-El-Beth-Sholom said she and other religious leaders in Montreal's Jewish community don't feel it's the right time to be opening their synagogues.

"We've each got our own small medical advisory committees, and they've been suggesting that we stay closed for now or that we open very, very gradually," Grushcow told CBC Montreal's Daybreak Thursday morning. 

"If we were to open physically right now, we would be leaving out the tremendous number of people that are currently joining in from home because of age or medical conditions," she said. 

"We just don't want to leave them behind." 

Instead, Temple Emanu-El-Beth-Sholom will continue to stream its services online. 

"We've really transitioned quite successfully online for this time period, so we're not limited in terms of our use of the technology — and we're thriving right now," said Grushcow. 

Aside from concern for vulnerable attendees, other obstacles also make it difficult to follow the government's health guidelines, were the synagogue to reopen.

For example, as with many other denominations, singing is a large part of the service, but as Dr. Richard Massé, a senior public health adviser to the government, explained earlier this week, singing releases a lot of water droplets and is therefore a risky activity in a pandemic. 

For that reason, all places of worship will have to limit singing at their services. 

While Grushcow admitted singing in unison is almost impossible on a video-conferenced service, she said attendees are able to mute their own microphones and can therefore sing along at their own pace. 

"They can follow along with the service. We don't have to limit our numbers, so it's what we're sticking with for now," she said.

Grushcow said she will continue to monitor the situation closely, but she has no idea when she and many other religious leaders will feel safe reopening their places of worship again. 

Rabbi Lisa Grushcow of Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom in Westmount says her synagogue will continue to offer services virtually for the foreseeable future. (CBC)

Mosque reopening with some changes 

Adil Ahmad, an imam in Pierrefonds and co-founder of the Canadian Muslim Alliance, said he is doing everything in his power to reopen safely in time for next week. 

All attendees will be asked to bring their own prayer mats, and the province's mosques are brainstorming to find ways in which they can ensure people stay two metres away from one another. 

"In our form of worship, we actually have to be in a place physically, and so that really forces us to gather," said Ahmad. 

Being compelled to remain physically distanced might mean coming up with separate shifts for Friday prayers, he said, so that fewer people are in the mosque at a time.

"Muslims have to do their absolutions: they have to wash themselves before they pray, so we are going to have to really enforce that the people do their preparations at home," he said.

  • Listen here to Daybreak's interview with Imam Adil Ahmad and Rabbi Lisa Grushcow

What about communion?

Cardinal Gérald Cyprien Lacroix, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Quebec and primate of Canada, said churches need more time to prepare to reopen, with new protocols in place to safely conduct rituals like communion. (Radio-Canada)

For many Christians, like those of the Roman Catholic faith, rituals such as communion require physical contact, and how that will happen still needs to be thought out. 

In some U.S. states where churches have already reopened, for example, the communion host is placed in the palms of parishioners by priests or deacons wearing face masks and goggles.

In an interview with Radio-Canada, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Quebec, Cardinal Gérald Cyprien Lacroix, said the government has not given religious leaders enough notice to put safety protocols in place for the reopening of churches in a week's time. 

"It's a lot of work to prepare. It requires investment in a lot of equipment," Lacroix said. 

Lacroix accused the government of putting all of its focus on the economy and neglecting religious institutions in the process. 

"The crisis has highlighted a deep ignorance of religions and the benefits they bring to hundreds of thousands of people in Quebec," he said.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak and Radio-Canada

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