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Holy Water Dispensers To
Reduce Exposure To H1N1 Virus?

Some call it worship without worry, while other think we have all gone mad. An Italian inventor has devised an electronic holy-water dispenser to reduce exposure to the H1N1 virus.

The device, already inspiring interest worldwide, uses an infrared sensor like those found in bathroom soap dispensers to squirt blessed water into parishioners' hands. The inventor, Luciano Marabese, said he dreamed up the idea to preserve religious tradition in the face of the flu pandemic.
Holy water has come under scrutiny in recent months, not only due to the flu virus, but over fake and potentially dangerous bottles containing twice the permitted levels of arsenic and almost three times the safe levels of nitrate.

Arsenic is a deadly toxin and can be ingested into the body through contact with skin. High doses can lead to multi-organ failure, brain damage and death. Lower doses can cause cancer.

Nitrate poisoning is especially harmful to babies and pregnant women, and interferes with the way that blood carries oxygen around the body. It can also lead to brain damage and death.

Holy water can pass on more than just a priest’s blessing—it can also transmit the swine flu virus, a British bishop says. That’s because churchgoers dip their fingers into one container of liquid, then touch their nose or eyes, thereby giving the virus a free ticket into their body.

For this reason, the bishops all over the world have urged priests to remove holy water from their churches to prevent cases of the flu.

According to BBC, the Right Reverend John Gladwin said: “The water in stoups [which hold holy water] can easily become a source of infection and a means of rapidly spreading the virus.” Still, he added: “It is not our intention at this stage to cause panic.”

The high-tech Italian inventor's creation underscores how the H1N1 virus is reshaping religious rituals as ministries struggle to spread the faith without spreading the flu. Houses of worship everywhere, including in Canada, are deploying inventive solutions to traditional rites.

At Runnymede United Church in Toronto, for example, communion bread last Sunday was served on toothpicks, like canapés. The servers didn't wear white cloth gloves, but they did wear surgical gloves.

"We brought in the toothpicks so people weren't putting their fingers in the bowl," said Rev. Lillian Perigoe, one of the ministers at the church.

Rituals are important, she said, but in a day of heightened flu awareness, they need to be balanced with public-health precautions.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Montreal has issued H1N1 directives to reduce flu risks. They call for priests to give communion on the hand, not the tongue, and to cease having parishioners drink from a communal chalice.

The practice for parishioners of dipping their hands into holy water from the font to make the sign of the cross is being temporarily suspended.

But one priest in Montreal was so intent on continuing it in his parish that he added bleach to the water. The effort, though well-meaning, backfired.

"He had good intentions - he made sure there were no germs in the water - but other problems arose," said Monsignor Jean Fortier, vicar-general at the Montreal archdiocese. "Was he ready to pay for the clothing stained by bleach?"

Hand sanitizers have become standard features inside houses of God. And passing the peace has been modified into a myriad of hygienic ways. Instead of shaking hands or embracing, churchgoers are bowing, fist-bumping and throwing arms over their neighbour's shoulder, being sure to stand side-to-side without facing one another.

Some churches are already pondering how to organize religious gatherings if the pandemic gets worse. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's notes that the last time it drew up a pandemic plan was in 1918, in response to the Spanish flu - at which time, all churches were closed.

* A full list of h1n1 vaccine ingredients, alerts and warnings.

Reference Sources:
November 24, 2009


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