Protesters call for houses of worship to be named essential services

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By Emily Campbell  & Adam Kovac, CTV News Montreal

MONTREAL -- While public health restrictions have been relaxed for Quebec's places of worship, allowing up to 10 people to gather inside, a protest was held on Sunday calling for the government to be reclassified as essential services.

Demonstrators gathered outside St-Leonard's Good News Chapel, where pastor Steve Gesualdi said the current arrangement is not working for his parishioners.

“The entire lockdown we were following all the protocols, we had the social distancing, we had the anti-bacterial, we had the spacing, we had the numbers per room,” he said. “With 25 per room, we were making it work, but now with 10, it just doesn't work at all.”

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Congregant Mark Sorella said that almost a year into the pandemic, spiritual support is needed now more than ever.

“There's a need in society for groups and individuals have been stuck at home for close to a year,” he said. “Allow us to do what we're called to do. This is what churches are for, they provide support, not only to their members but to the public at large.”

The church attendees are not alone in calling for a further loosening of restrictions. On Monday, the Council of Hasidic Jews will appear in court over police raids at at least two synagogues last week. The group is arguing that the rules were changed several times over just a few days and they have exhausted their other means of working with the province to ensure they can pray safely.

But Bishop Pierre Murray of the Interfaith Roundtable, which has worked on discussions with the government on guidelines for houses of worship, said it's become increasingly difficult to draw a line between religious accommodation and public health.

“Every gathering is forbidden in the province of Quebec except for religious gatherings of 10 people,” he said. “It's a huge step the government has taken. It shows the government understands the role and function of religious groups in helping people to cope with the difficulties we're going through.”

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