A NORTH Belfast priest has described the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions as ‘devastating’ for his parish.
Father Patrick Sheehan is Parish Priest at St Mary’s on the Hill in Glengormley which remains closed as it cannot facilitate social distancing.
Parishioners in Gleng-ormley have been forced to ‘book a pew’ at the bigger St Bernard’s Church on the Antrim Road for services.
With churches and parish halls closed to thousands of their regular visitors across Belfast, the lockdown has been especially hard for those who are living alone.
Many have had no form of social interaction with others. Not being able to be an active part of their religious and local communities, has affected the physical and mental health of hundreds of worshippers across the city.
As part of her ‘Covid-19; A Belfast Story programme’, Newtownabbey Documentary Visual Artist, Lise McGreevy spoke to Father Pat Sheehan about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on his parish during the past year.
“Like many parishes; the biggest and most obvious change that the lockdowns brought to mine was the restrictions on gathering socially,” explained Father Sheehan.
“This was devastating for many people in my congregation as it affected them coming together.
“Social interaction is so important but the public were not allowed into the parish centre. This was in addition to no services or worship in the parish church.
 “Not being able to gather was very challenging and struck at the heart of what it means to be a parish community.
“Technology certainly helped to keep us in contact, but many are yearning now for the time when we can all return to being together again.
“Personally, I did not find the lockdowns as difficult as other people I have spoken to have.
“As a celibate priest, I have always lived alone in the various parishes to which I was assigned.
“While living alone was difficult in the beginning, the years have taught me to change my loneliness into solitude. This helped me greatly during the lockdowns.”
Lise’s programme ‘Covid-19: A Belfast story’ will be on display at the Engine Room Gallery in Belfast and Market Place in Armagh post-restrictions 2021/22.