, 20 March, 2020 / 4:21 AM
While there has not been a reported case of COVID-19 in Zimbabwe, Catholic leaders in the country that is situated in Southern Africa have, as a precautionary measure, advised children, the sick, the elderly and other vulnerable groups not to attend public Mass on Sunday, in adherence to measures put in place by the government.
In a collective statement dated March 17, Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC) said it “fully supports the various calls to take serious and drastic measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the country, whose urgency cannot be overemphasized.”
“The Sunday obligation to attend Mass for the elderly, children, the sick and the vulnerable is lifted until further notice,” the Bishops said in their collective statement, adding, “Vulnerable faithful should not feel guilty for failing to attend Mass.”
In the statement, the Prelates urge the vulnerable members of the Church community, where possible, to follow live streaming of Mass through various media of social communications that are available to them.
“The current situation offers an opportunity for us to renew our appreciation of the value of Prayer at home and in Private. This has, as we know, a particular relevance in Lent, where we are encouraged ‘when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door and pray to your father in secret. And your father who sees in secret will reward you,’” the Bishops noted, quoting the Gospel of Matthew 6:6.
They added, “We are encouraged to read our Bibles and to hold Services of the Word, where we are able to be in ‘spiritual communion’ with our Lord in the Eucharist and in our Neighbour.”
While outlining safety measures similar to those communicated by Bishops in other African countries, the Catholic Prelates in Zimbabwe encouraged Ministers of the Holy Communion to observe good hygiene by washing hands before and after distributing Holy Communion, which is to be offered only in the hand.
The Bishops also suspended the sign of peace during Holy Mass and “all blessings by laying of hands.”
Further, the Prelates assured that nearer the time of the Easter Celebrations, they will “assess the situation with the help of health experts to propose safe alternatives for the Triduum rituals.”
Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared COVID-19 a national disaster even as the country is yet to report cases of the deadly virus. The Head of State also postponed the country’s Independence Day celebrations and limited public gatherings to 100 people.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Zambia where the first case of COVID-19, involving a couple that travelled out of the country, was reported Wednesday, March 18, Church leaders in the nation expressed their readiness to take extreme measures in combating the pandemic.
“Whilst hoping for the best, we must prepare for the worst,” the Bishops in Zambia stated in their collective message dated Tuesday, March 17.
“In the event that the worst-case scenario unfolds, the Local Ordinaries are resolved to take drastic and necessary measures that will be aimed at saving lives and safeguarding vulnerable members,” the members of ZCCB said.
They continued, “This will include the possibility of shutting down our Church premises, if and where deemed necessary.”
Further, the Prelates called upon all to take personal responsibility by protecting themselves and others, “especially those most at risk due to preexisting medical conditions, our brothers and sisters living with chronic diseases, the aged and other vulnerable members of our communities.”
The Prelates also urged priests, the religious, catechists and lay leaders to preach messages of hope and encouraged “all members of the Church to be steadfast in their Lenten observance of Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving.”
They concluded by entrusting “those who may be suffering from Coronavirus and all caregivers to the maternal protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa