Flu fears causes church to suspend ‘peace’ handshake

ONE parish in Fermanagh has taken the decision to suspend the sign of peace at Mass until the end of the flu season, while other parishes are considering the decision. 
The tradition has been suspended in the Parish of Aghlurcher as a precautionary measure due to the continuing risk of parishioners getting the flu. 
Fr Jimmy McPhillips, parish priest of Parish of Aghlurcher, which covers Lisnaskea and Maguiresbridge, has confirmed that the handshake has been suspended.
He explained, “Its that time of year again with flu and colds and infection all around. We will now suspend the customary sign of peace handshake until the risk of infection significantly reduces.”
Monsignor Peter O’Reilly of St Michael’s Parish said that the handshake has not yet been suspended at the Enniskillen parish, but the action will remain under review.
“If someone is not feeling well, they are best to stay home and watch in over our parish webcam. That would be the responsible thing to do. It’s easy to bring home more than you bargain for when you go into town, especially when we’re in the older age bracket.  We ask our Eucharistic Ministers to use hand gel before and after Holy Communion. 
In St Michael’s Parish, and throughout our pastoral areas, we will continue to keep an eye on the local health situation. Should the situation warrant it, we may suspend the present practice of handshaking at the Sign of Peace for a time,” said Monsignor O’Reilly. 
A spokesman for the Diocese of Clogher explained that the decision on the sign of peace remains locally with the parish priest.
“In the first instance, we urge people to follow the advice given by the public health authorities. Those showing symptoms of flu should remain at home and, if possible, be united to the faith community through Mass on local radio or, where they exist, via web cams. 
With regard to the sign of peace, we wish to point out that this expression of communion with God and with one another is an optional part of the Mass and a matter for each celebrant and parish community. It should be noted also that the Peace may be exchanged by means other than shaking hands, such as a simple verbal greeting. Parishes should keep the matter under review and be conscious of the ongoing public health situation.” 

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