Swine flu puts paid to sign of peace

Newry, UK - A Catholic priest has dropped the traditional Sign of Peace handshake at Mass because of swine flu.

Parishioners at the Dominican Chapel in Newry were told on Sunday that the handshake was suspended - according to local newspaper, The Newry Democrat.

Dominican Prior Fr Gerard Fearon said the move was a precaution in light of the threat of swine flu.

"It was in response to an anonymous letter from a parishioner who disagreed with the Sign of Peace," he said.

"I just thought we would suspend it for a while in the context that scientists are saying that we should be protecting ourselves against swine flu and how it is important to have clean hands.

"I told parishioners that it would be back again once the health authorities have given absolute clearance. It was just something to laugh at more than anything. I wouldn't take it too seriously."

Fr Fearon said the Sign of Peace would also be suspended at Dominican services this weekend.

One parishioner asked: "What are they going to do next? Put communion in little individual plastic bags and hand them out?"

So far, there are no confirmed cases of swine flu in Northern Ireland.