By Eoin English
The Catholic Bishop of Cork and Ross has asked priests to suspend the ‘sign of peace’ handshake during Masses and religious ceremonies amid fears that a new strain of the flu virus has hit Ireland.
Most Reverend Dr John Buckley has written today to some 150 priests in 68 parishes across the diocese formally asking them to suspend the handshake gesture until the flu outbreak eases.
It follows a similar move last week by the Bishop of Down and Connor, Noel Treanor, and local decisions by parish priests in several parts of the country, including Kilbarron Parish in Ballyshannon, Co Donegal.
Bishop Buckley said he has met dozens of people during hospital visitations in recent days who are suffering from respiratory illnesses, including the flu.
He also said he has received a number of letters and phone calls from parishioners, and those in the medical profession, who expressed concerns about the spread of the flu.
Hand contact is the usual way for the flu virus to spread and Bishop Buckley said given that between 60,000 and 70,000 people attend religious services across the diocese every week, he felt the Catholic Church should do what it can to minimise the risk of the flu spreading.
“It is in this context that Bishop Buckley asks that you would suspend the Sign of Peace and, perhaps, replace it with another gesture at this time, such as a silent prayer for peace, in the interests of the health of those who attend Mass,” his letter said yesterday.
According to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), the number of reported cases of flu-like illness in Ireland continued to increase in the past three weeks - in all age groups with the highest rates reported in babies and young children.
The HPSC said influenza is expected to increase over the coming weeks and to circulate for at least the next four to six weeks.