Swine flu fears taking handshakes out of church
Globe and Mail
EDMONTON — Not everything is being left to prayer for thousands of Roman Catholic church-goers across Canada.
At least two Catholic archdioceses, Edmonton and Kingston, have issued precautionary measures to their parish priests to carry out during mass in an attempt to prevent the spread of H1N1 flu.
One of the most striking is a recommendation to not allow parishioners to hold or shake hands. Instead, people are being asked to either nod or bow to those sitting or standing around them.
There is also a recommendation that the practice of allowing people to drink consecrated wine out of a common cup be halted. All of the measures are temporary until health officials get a better handle on the new global flu virus.
“I believe these steps are an appropriate response to the current alert level,” the archbishop of Edmonton, Richard Smith, said in a letter sent to parish priests this week.
Some churches in the U.S. and even as far away as New Zealand have also altered their services in light of rising fears about the spread of swine flu.
Francine Garneau, a spokeswoman for the Ottawa-based Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said each archdiocese is being allowed to decide on their own whether they want to alter mass practices.
Lorraine Turchansky, a spokeswoman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton, said their decision was made after reviewing the public advice André Corriveau, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, has released in recent days.
Dr. Corriveau wouldn’t comment directly yesterday when asked about the archdiocese’s actions. “Whether you are going to a church service or to a party with your friends, if you have a flu-like illness, you shouldn’t be sharing cups,” he said.
The Edmonton archdiocese operates 129 parishes in central and northern Alberta. About 360,000 Catholics live in the region, according to Ms. Turchansky.
Alberta has eight confirmed cases of H1N1 flu. Of those, seven were found in Calgary. According to provincial health officials, all of the cases have been mild and none of the patients have been hospitalized.