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UPDATED: Richmond pastor continues to support online church service during COVID-19

Safety of citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic is the priority, according to Fr. Pierre Ducharme.
Father Pierre Ducharme
While Fr. Pierre Ducharme misses holding in-person services at Saint Joseph the Worker, he believes faithful Richmondites must continue to make sacrifices in order to keep people safe from the COVID-19 pandemic.

A request to increase Catholic mass capacity in time for Easter was rejected, which means the city’s religious leaders will continue to engage their congregations online.

However, on Monday provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she's been working with faith leaders on how to safely allow religious gatherings ahead of Easter and Passover in early April.

Henry said the province will tweak its rules "in the coming days" to allow outdoor, in-person religious services in small numbers. She said those new virus guidelines should be released by early next week.

Meanwhile, St. Joseph the Worker’s Pastor Fr. Pierre Ducharme said he's happy to wait. And while he sympathizes with Archbishop Michael Miller’s bid to get church communities back together at the holiest time in the Christian calendar, he also believes in prioritizing the safety of citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Switching to online mass services is far from an unusual practice nowadays, Ducharme said. Even when the restrictions began back in March of 2020, St. Joseph the Worker immediately converted to a live streaming schedule because they saw a risk of in-person prayer; prior to COVID-19, the church had a weekly, in-person attendance of about 2,500.

“We’re blessed to have the technology where we can reach out online, but nothing really replaces the gift of being together. At the same time, we only want to do so if it’s safe,” he said.

Ducharme said he holds a lot of respect for Dr. Bonnie Henry and B.C. health officials, and that the slow and unfamiliar timeline of the past year requires more patience towards those in positions of power.

“It’s been a trying year. I don’t think anybody has the advanced knowledge of what the right answers are.”

Despite highly publicized examples of church leaders defying public health guidelines in some areas of the Lower Mainland, in Richmond there appears to be a general consensus of support among faith leaders for Dr. Henry’s decisions.

Pastor Christoph Reiners of Our Saviour Lutheran Church spoke with the Richmond News back in January about keeping rule-breaking churches accountable and to stress that the vast majority of faith groups operate well in line with pandemic protocols. 

As with Ducharme, Reiners said he understands what Archbishop Miller was trying to do with his request, which contrasted the restrictions of religious services to the restrictions of restaurants. However, Reiners said different judgements have to be made regarding different aspects of societal life.

“I think that the province has been trying to save as many restaurants and hospitality businesses as possible because there are livelihoods and potential job losses involved.”

“I’m sympathetic to the Archbishop’s request, but I am happy to comply with the orders issued by the Province,” he said.

On Feb. 19, Archbishop Michael Miller of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver submitted a 19-page request asking B.C.’s health officials to allow Catholic churches to have masses in-person at 10 per cent capacity. An additional petition was filed in the B.C. Supreme Court on Feb. 26 when a response had not yet been given.

Henry’s seven-page response was sent back on March 5 where she said Archbishop Miller’s request could not be permitted at this time but offered consultation with health officials and hinted at the possible restriction relief during the summer.

- with files from Castanet