, 20 March, 2020 / 4:31 AM
Church leaders in Kenya and Uganda have, in separate statements issued Thursday, March 19, announced that Churches will remain open in the two East African countries for public Mass, a move that has attracted both praise and condemnation from the faithful as governments take a raft of measures to contain possible spread of COVID-19.
“Our Churches will remain open; they are not closing. They will be the focal point of prayer, where you will find solace and strength from God,” reads part of a statement by the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB).
In the three-page statement, the Prelates in Kenya direct, “The Holy Masses will continue to be celebrated in our Churches but the Bishops' Conference recommends that the Diocesan Bishops grant temporary dispensation from the Sunday obligation for the next three weeks for any faithful who may need it.”
In the collective statement signed by KCCB Chairman, Archbishop Philip Anyolo, the Prelates provide that for those who are able to attend Sunday Mass, they “may do so observing all the measures of prudence” while the priests are advised to “exercise caution in regard to large gatherings, that is, keeping the recommended distance of one metre.”
The Bishops also direct, in the 13-point statement, that the Masses “should be brief.”
The Church leaders in Kenya have also encouraged Catholic radios in the country to “transmit live masses” and directed, “Those Christians who are impeded from attending Sunday Mass, can also benefit from Live-streaming of celebration of Holy Mass through Televisions and Radio Stations.”
As a precautionary measure, the Bishops have temporarily suspended the celebration of the Masses in Small Christian Communities and instead advised priests to “celebrate daily Masses in the main Church or the Outstations for the intentions of the Christians taking into consideration one metre distance.”
“These guidelines will be reviewed as we continue to monitor the unfolding situation,” the Prelates in Kenya have stated in their March 19 collective message.
Similarly, in neighboring Uganda where there is no confirmed case of COVID-19, Bishops under their umbrella body, the Uganda Episcopal Conference (UEC) have stated, “We dispense the faithful from the Sunday obligation to participate in the Holy Mass during this period.”
“However, we encourage all Catholic radio stations to relay and broadcast Holy Mass on Sundays and weekdays,” the Prelates have urged and added, “The faithful are encouraged to tune in at given times which are to be announced by the same radio stations.
In the statement signed by UEC Chairman, Bishop Joseph Antony Zziwa, the Prelates “strongly encourage” the faithful to pray “at their homes.”
Following the ban on public gatherings in the country, the Prelates in Uganda have advised the clergy, religious, catechists and the laity to “refrain from conducting Stations of the Cross, crusades, workshops and retreats of more than 10 people.”
Unlike Kenya and Uganda where the Bishops have allowed voluntary Mass attendance on Sundays, their counterparts in other African countries have temporarily suspended celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
On March 16, Ghana became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to temporarily suspend the public celebration of the Holy Eucharist, a decision taken by the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference (GCBC). The country has 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as at Thursday, March 19.
However, the failure by Bishops in the East African nation of Kenya to temporarily suspend Sunday Masses amid seven confirmed cases of COVID-19 has attracted both praise and criticism from the faithful.
Reacting to the statement by KCCB, Facebook user, Angelic Queen commented, “I am relieved now. I love the way you (Bishops) have done it. The Church will remain open, we are not giving the evil one a chance.”
“Are you guys serious?” Anthony Irungu probed in reference to the Bishops of Kenya allowing public Mass on Sunday and added, “In my local Church there is hardly ever any space despite 5 Masses on Sunday and here you are asking us to attend Mass? You need to understand the reality of Covid-19.”
Invoking the intercession of Blessed Irene Stefani Nyaatha, Paul Jacob wrote, “The Church is our source of hope and should foster a faith that goes beyond death and the grave. Blessed Irene Nyaatha pray for us.”
Another Facebook user identified as Wakamiru Wakamiru recommended, “Let us encourage our people to attend Mass even during weekdays to free up Sundays.”
She explained, “My parish has a population of 5000 or so. Big and unfortunate at the moment. But we have 10 weekday Masses, 1 Mass on Saturday and 5 Masses on Sunday. We can add 2 more on Saturday and 1 more on Sunday making them 19 Masses; 5000/19 you get 263 people per Mass.”
Meanwhile, for one Michuki Gavana, the move by Bishops to allow Sunday Masses is “courting danger.”
Gavana says, “Covid-19 will kill and kill everyone if we are not careful. In South Korea and parts of China, the Church refused to close down as requested by authorities. Now they have no one to go to those Churches, some are long dead and others fighting for life.”
As at March 19 evening, at least 33 African countries had reported more than 600 cases and 17 deaths due to COVID-19, while 40 people have recovered, Aljazeera has reported.
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