ARMAGH, Northern Ireland, MAR. 4, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Fears of foot-and-mouth disease have led to the cancellation of many public events, including St. Patrick's Day celebrations.
Archbishop Sean Brady, president of the Irish bishops' conference, sent a message to all the island's bishops calling for a response by the Catholic Church to decisions made by Irish authorities, to avoid the spread of the disease. Among the Church options is cancellation of Sunday Mass in selected areas.
Many British cattle farmers have already been ruined financially by the disease, which also has caused ripple effects in related businesses such as restaurants.
Foot-and-mouth is an acute infectious viral disease which causes blisters, fever and lameness in animals with hooves. It is highly contagious, though the British Food Standards Agency says there is virtually no risk to humans. It can, however, lead to enormous production losses.
The disease has not been reported in the Republic of Ireland to date. But 500 policemen and 1,000 military men are patrolling the border with Northern Ireland to prevent any animals crossing over. All sports events and many social activities have been canceled in Ireland.
Archbishop Brady's statement said in part: "Parishes, especially those in rural areas, should endeavor to provide disinfectant mats at the entry point to their churches and schools, including entrances to car parks."
It continued: "Where local clergy consider it prudent and necessary, parish liturgies, meetings and events should be rearranged or canceled. The cancellation of Sunday Mass is, of course, a matter for each bishop. In areas where an outbreak of the disease has been confirmed or is suspected, and where it is considered essential to cancel Sunday Masses, it should be made clear that parishioners are excused from their Sunday obligation and should not travel to adjoining parishes for Sunday Mass."