Writing for the Catholic Daily, La Croix International Lucie Sarr gives and update on how Catholics in Africa are dealing with COVID-19 March 24, 2020
Most African bishops have adopted strict anti-coronavirus measures in line with those taken by local authorities
Africa, the world’s second-largest and second-most populous continent, is increasingly being affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Cases of infection have now climbed to nearly 1,200. And most African countries have adopted drastic measures to stem the spread of the pandemic. These range from closing borders to banning gatherings of more than 50 people.
Many Episcopal Conferences and some dioceses have responded to the measures by taking the radical and painful decision to suspend Mass and all parish activities that include gatherings.
► Suspension of Mass and other parish gatherings: Morocco, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Benin, Chad, DR-Congo, Angola, Gabon and Rwanda… Bishops in these ten countries have suspended the public celebration of Mass to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Morocco: The Archdiocese of Rabat, which had already decided as of March 14 to suspend Masses on Sunday while allowing those during the week, has now gone a step further. Cardinal Cristóbal López Romero announced on March 17 that he was suspending “all public acts” of worship, including “Sunday Masses and Stations of the Cross on Fridays, as well as the public celebration of daily Masses”. Morocco had registered 143 cases of coronavirus as of March 23, including 4 deaths and 5 people who have recovered.
Ghana: Archbishop Philip Naameh, president of Episcopal Conference of Ghana, announced on March 16, that the bishops would adhere to new anti-coronavirus measures taken by the country’s government. In a televised address a day earlier, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo announced a ban on public gatherings.
As of March 23 the West African country had registered 27 cases of coronavirus and two deaths. Ghana’s bishops have suspended all Masses and some religious services for the next four weeks. They are recommending Catholics to join in family prayer and Eucharistic adoration.
Senegal: The Senegalese Bishops’ Conference announced on March 17 “the temporary suspension of religious services of a public nature such as public Masses (during the week, Sunday and days of obligation), public Stations of the Cross during Lent, and other religious activities of a public nature (Catholic action movements, choir rehearsals, catechesis, recollection, meetings of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC), prayer assemblies)”. This West African country now has reported 86 cases of coronavirus. So far no one has died and 5 people have fully recovered.
Burkina Faso Burkina Faso is the West African country most affected by COVID-19. As of March 23 it had 114 total cases of infection, including 15 new cases recorded during the previous 24 hours. Four people have died. The Episcopal Conference of Burkina-Niger announced on March 18 that it was suspending all public Masses (Sunday, days of obligation and daily), as well as all gatherings in parishes.
The bishops have invited Catholics to pray privately or with their families at home by meditating on the Word of God, reciting the rosary, making the Way of the Cross and practicing other devotions. Churches remain open during the day for individual devotions.
Ivory Coast: There have been only 25 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Côte d’Ivoire as of March 23 and these include two people who have recovered. So it was with some hesitation that most dioceses have announced the suspension of Masses.
The Archdiocese of Abidjan has suspended the public celebration of Mass until April 6. In the meantime, there have been a number of initiatives by Catholic radio stations and social networks to help people continue to live their faith.
DR-Congo: The archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, suspended Masses throughout his diocese on March 19. He also suspended the public celebration of all other sacraments — such as baptism, confirmation, holy orders and marriage — and cancelled Palm Sunday processions. The cardinal is encouraging the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) to continue to care for vulnerable people and priests.
The Diocese of Butembo-Beni in North Kivu has taken radical measures to deal with the coronavirus, including the suspension of all Masses and other public gatherings. The diocese is located in the eastern part of DR-Congo, which was ravaged a few months by Ebola. Some 2,000 people died of the disease. “We remember all that we have experienced here with the Ebola epidemic,” said Bishop Melchisedech Sikuli Paluku. “We can neither prevaricate nor take half-measures in the face of the fight against COVID-19,” he said.
DR-Congo had reported 45 cases of coronavirus as of March 23. That includes two deaths.
Gabon: The government of Gabon announced on March 21 that all places of worship must be closed. A day later the country’s Catholic bishops suspended public Masses. They also announced that, as of March 22, the bishops would preside at a Mass each day, including Sunday, broadcast live on Gabon State television.
► Few or no cases but vigilance: Chad, Angola, Mali
Chad recorded its first case of coronavirus on March 19, which prompted the government to adopt a number of measures. They include a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people. In response, the episcopal conference decided on Saturday March 21 to suspend Mass, penitential celebrations, the Way of the Cross and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Similarly, the Catholic bishops of Angola decided to suspend mass gatherings as soon as the first case of coronavirus was discovered. The bishops’ conference announced on March 20 that most Church activities were being suspended until further notice. They include the following: “Weekly and Sunday Masses, confessions, Way of the Cross, retreats, pilgrimages, visits to shrines, vigils, choir rehearsals, catechesis and meetings of apostolic groups and movements in the Church and elsewhere.”
Mali has not recorded a single case of coronavirus, Church officials have taken the path of prudence by suspending gatherings in their parishes.
► Conditional Masses: Cameroon, Togo
Cameroon: While some bishops have taken radical measures to avoid the spread of the virus, others have opted to continue the public celebration of Mass and other parish gatherings. Such is the case in most dioceses in Cameroon.
The northern dioceses of Yaoundé, Garoua and Ngaoudere have allowed the continuation of Mass, while adapting to government health measures such as limiting public gatherings to a maximum of 50 people. The Diocese of Douala, on the other hand, said it would be too difficult to implement such a measure. So it decided it would be more pragmatic to face the health crisis by suspending Masses, Stations of the Cross and other parish group activities.
Cameroon has 66 cases of COVID-19 as of March 23.
Togo: Although Togo has recorded only 18 cases of coronavirus, the country’s Catholic bishops quickly decided to suspend all Sunday Masses. The episcopal conference announced on March 19 that it was also suspending “Masses for the sick and celebrations of the sacraments — first communion, confirmation and baptism of children.” Other activities temporarily cancelled include “Catechism classes, choir practices, services for altar boys and girls, evangelization campaigns and Lenten penitential processions”. However, Catholics in Togo can attend weekday Mass, as long as attendance does not exceed 50 people.
► Nigeria: Difficult measures to implement: Archbishop Alfred Adewale Martins, whose archdiocese of Lagos is located in a sprawling megalopolis of some 20 million people, has published anti-coronavirus measures that will be difficult to implement.
He announced on March 21 that public Mass can continue to be celebrated, but only with a congregation number no more than 50 people. He has dispensed pregnant women, the elderly and children under the age of 18 from any canonical obligations. “At this critical time and with immediate effect, those among the faithful who consider their health to be threatened by participation in public gathering… are exempt from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation for a period of four weeks,” the archbishop said.
He added every adult Catholic had the liberty to decide whether or not to attend Mass. He urged those who could no to the following the Eucharistic celebrations that are being broadcasted on Lumen TV, a Catholic media outlet in Africa.
Archbishop Martins urged priests to celebrate more Masses in different parts of their parish boundaries in order to allow a greater number of their people to attend the liturgies, while respecting the capacity of 50 at public gatherings. But he said Palm Sunday processions are cancelled and the Chrism Mass would be limited to priests and consecrated persons.
► Basic preventive measures against coronavirus: Central African Republic
And, finally, the Central African Republic has registered only three cases of coronavirus as of March 23. Nonetheless, Catholic leaders in the country are adopting basic preventive measures. These include abstaining from the sign of peace and distributing communion only in the hand. The bishops’ conference has announced other measures in accordance with the government guidelines. It has also published a prayer in French and Sango (the national language) against the coronavirus.
Reproduced with permission from La Croix International https://international.la-croix.com/