DUBLIN (Reuters) – An Irish priest refusing to let the coronavirus lockdown keep him from his parishioners came up with an innovative way to spread his Holy Thursday blessing – aboard a vintage ‘popemobile.’

Father Malachy Conlon rode around a rural peninsula greeting locals who lined the streets from behind partially lowered protective shields in the white, open roofed vehicle that is usually the centrepiece of papal motorcades when the head of the Roman Catholic Church travels the world.

Conlon’s personal ‘popemobile’ was used by Pope John Paul II on trips to Britain and South Africa in the 1980’s. It was later purchased by a local parishioner, whose widow keeps it in storage nearby, the County Louth priest told Reuters.

After Ireland ordered citizens on March 27 to stay home until at least Sunday to help slow the spread of the virus, Conlon asked his congregation not to gather together for Easter but to instead receive their blessings from the side of the road.

“The pastoral council talked about reaching out to people at this difficult time and as we talked, this idea evolved. It was all quite spontaneous,” Conlon said after his six-hour drive in the north eastern coastal sunshine.

“There were huge crowds, it was a moving turnout. I’ve never received such a torrent of messages as I have this evening, people deeply appreciative and feeling connected to one another, despite all of the distancing.”

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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