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Catholics in France Oppose Prayer Service Restrictions Imposed on Places of Worship

FILE - A priest gives communion host during a mass in a convent of Saint Germain en Laye, west of Paris.

As French authorities ease some measures taken due to the coronavirus pandemic, Catholics in the country are challenging the size limit still imposed by the government on prayer services.

The coronavirus pandemic places a heavy burden on France, where more than 50,000 people have died of COVID-19. Places of worship were still open during the lockdown, but regular prayer services were banned due to health concerns.

Believers in France were relieved this week when French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced that prayer services could resume Saturday in places of worship.

During a press conference, Castex explained it would be progressive in places of worship, as they have become clusters during the pandemic, in France and all over the world. Only 30 people at a time will be allowed at prayer services inside places of worship and with stringent sanitary measures. That number might increase by December 15, when the lockdown ends, if the epidemic is under control, the French prime minister said.

Since the announcement, the government has been heavily criticized for the arbitrary number. The 30-person limit for any building no matter the size – from tiny churches to gothic cathedrals – is not acceptable to a lot people, like Christiane, a Catholic from Paris.

She says with this decision, authorities are making fun of them, as 30 people in a cathedral does not make sense to her. She said it shows disdain toward Catholics.

Some Catholic clergy has vowed to fight the decision and said it hopes the government will shift its restriction on places of worship, according to Roman Catholic Bishop Matthieu Rougé of Nanterre, a city near Paris.

“Many Catholics and non-Catholics find the decision ridiculous, unfair and disrespectful of Catholics," said Rougé. Thirty people in a very large church is ridiculous. Why such a repeated mistake? These are institutional failures. There is, also, I think, a lack of consideration for faith or believers.”

Shops regarded as “non-essential” also reopened in the country Saturday. Bars and restaurants will not reopen until at least January 20.