DUBLIN (CNS) -- With all St. Patrick's Day parades and events canceled due to restrictions aimed at containing the coronavirus pandemic, most bishops and priests celebrated Masses via webcam or parish radio.
"The strength of a culture is seen, not when things are going well, but when crisis strikes," Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry said March 17 in his St. Patrick's Day homily in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bishop McKeown prayed on Ireland's national feast day "for God's grace to drive this evil from our shores," saying it was a time for intense prayer and penance.
At 11 a.m. across Ireland, cathedrals and parish churches rang their bells as an expression of social solidarity and care for one other and to encourage people to remain hopeful at this difficult time.
As he blessed the shamrock in Dublin's pro-cathedral, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin appealed to people to "avoid selfish panic gestures, thinking only of ourselves" and "put aside the alarmists."
He also appealed to people to listen to the experts and "scrupulously respect the measures that are proposed" to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Referring to the extraordinary circumstances in which the national feast day this year is taking place, Archbishop Martin said, "St. Patrick's Day Mass in this pro-cathedral has always been a day in which many people from overseas came to celebrate with us and proudly to remember their Irish heritage."
But this St. Patrick's Day "is different. We celebrate with a small number of people present, linked by webcam with others."
He acknowledged, "All of us are fearful about the future, and many are fearful as they feel increasingly vulnerable."
Archbishop Martin thanked priests as they continue to minister to the sick, the troubled and the bereaved.
In Armagh, Northern Ireland, where St. Patrick founded a church in the fifth century, Archbishop Eamon Martin prayed for the "brave and selfless health workers and for the medical scientists who are searching for a vaccine and better treatments."
Earlier in March, the Irish bishops canceled confirmations and first Communions until further notice. In a set of directives, they said attendance at funerals was to be limited to close relatives and close friends and must not exceed 100 people within the church building.
While some churches remain open for prayer each day, the faithful have been dispensed from their obligation of physically attending Sunday Mass.