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Dioceses in Cameroon Maintain Public Masses, Limit Congregation Size over COVID-19

Flag of Cameroon showing some measures taken to combat COVID-19

As Africa struggles to contain the spread of COVID-19, with at least 42 countries confirming cases of the deadly virus, Church leaders in the Central African nation of Cameroon, have maintained the celebration of public Masses in their respective dioceses and instructed that the congregation size be limited to a certain number of worshipers at a time.

Cameroon has 17 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and the Ministry of health announced that two patients who initially tested positive for the disease had fully recovered.

In the Archdiocese of Yaoundé, Archbishop Jean Mbarga has maintained the celebration of public Masses, declaring in his March 18 pastoral letter that “the number of faithful at Sunday Masses and other liturgical celebrations be limited to 50 people.”

While calling for a responsible attitude from the faithful, the Archbishop has recommended that “Liturgical celebrations be broadcast through the media to support the prayer of a greater number of the faithful in their homes.”

On Wednesday, March 17, Cameroon’s Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute announced, in a televised address, 13 measures to combat Covid-19 in Cameroon, including “banning gatherings of more than 50 people,” which particularly affects the organization of religious services in the country.

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Following this intervention, the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon (NECC) invited “the people of God and all men of good will” to respect the measures and rules enacted by the government.

“The seriousness of the situation requires drastic decisions that we must welcome in faith,” urged Archbishop Andrew Nkea, Vice President of NECC in the March 18, statement.

He also invited the faithful to be serene and to “remain attentive also to the recommendations of the diocesan bishop and to redouble their efforts in prayer and fraternal charity.”

In the Archdiocese of Douala, Archbishop Samuel Kleda on Friday, March 20, presided at a Eucharistic celebration at the cathedral to pray for the victims of coronavirus.

“We are living in difficult times with the spread of the coronavirus,” Archbishop Kleda said and added, “We must not relent in our prayers for those who have died of this disease and imploring God’s healing on those who are still suffering from it.”

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In order to avoid the spread of the disease, Archbishop Kleda has called for responsibility on the part of Christians saying, “As Christians we must be our brother’s keeper. This implies taking actions that will go a long way to save life. We must exercise responsibility with respect to the measures prescribed by the government to stop this disease from spreading.”

In the Archdiocese of Garoua where Masses are also maintained, Archbishop Faustin Ambassa Ndjodo in a March 18 Pastoral letter has recommended that “parishes of the diocese increase the number of masses to avoid large crowds during celebrations.”

During Eucharistic celebrations, the Prelate has advised that “the faithful should sit at a good distance from their immediate neighbours, avoid holding hands during the sign of peace, and receive communion on their hands.”

Archbishop Ambassa, has also postponed the diocesan youth days, asking “the faithful who show signs of coughs or colds not to participate in public Masses.” 

The Cameroonian Prelate recommends that “Prayer sessions should be organized so that the Lord, our God, may save humanity from this pandemic.”

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Meanwhile, in the diocese of Ngaoundéré, Bishop Emmanuel Abbo, has asked the “faithful presenting suspicious signs (coughs and colds) to refrain from participating in public Masses,” which are still held in his diocese.

For the Sunday celebrations, “parishes will organize themselves in such a way as to respect all the instructions of the government (no more than 50 people),” Bishop Abbo stated in a Pastoral letter dated March 19.

“In this way, they can multiply the number of Eucharistic celebrations in the parish. The parish priests are invited, as far as possible, to broadcast Sunday Masses live via social media,” the Local Ordinary stated in the letter.

“Parishes will also multiply the Stations of the Cross,” which are also maintained in this diocese, with the exception of Good Friday,” the Bishop added.

With about 36 African countries currently with recorded cases, governments continue to roll out increasingly robust measures to halt the spread and to contain the pandemic which has claimed a number of lives.

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Cape Verde confirmed its first coronavirus case on Friday, March 20 in a government statement. “The patient is a 62-year-old British citizen who entered the country on March 9 and began showing symptoms on March 16,” the statement reads in part.

Arlindo Cardinal Furtado, Bishop of Cape Verde’s Santiago diocese and Bishop Ildo Fortes of Mindelo, have issued a joint communiqué in which they state that “in line with restrictive measures taken by the government and for the good of public health", they have ordered the provisional suspension of all celebrations and other religious activities with significant gatherings of people.”

On the contrary, “there will be weekly and Sunday Masses without the gathering of people, for the deceased and other intentions, in all parishes and religious communities; confession at the request of the penitent; funeral with limited presence of close relatives; television broadcasting of Sunday Masses at TCV and weekly and Sunday Masses on Radio Nova,” the prelates stated in their collective statement dated March 19.

Meanwhile the Bishops’ Conference of Benin, Friday, March 20 issued a statement announcing the suspension “until further notice” of Masses and other church activities from Saturday, March 21.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the platform of religious denominations also issued a statement expressing concern over COVID-19 saying, “We, Heads of Religious Confessions of the DR Congo, are following with great concern and attention the rapid progression of the Coronavirus epidemic throughout the world.”

“We express our deepest condolences and solidarity to the families and people bereaved by this pandemic and reassure them of our prayers for the rest of the souls of their departed,” the Religious leaders state in their March 19 statement.

“We note with great regret that the DR Congo is not spared by this pandemic which comes after the very trying pandemic of the Ebola virus,” they lamented.

They urged the people of God in the DR Congo to “consider the new epidemic as dangerous as the Ebola epidemic that is about to end and invite them to scrupulously follow the measures prescribed by the Government in order to stop the spread of this disease throughout the DR Congo, Africa and the entire world.”

“We commit ourselves to be actively involved in the fight against this pandemic and invite the leaders of each of our components to take specific measures related to our practices and rituals in order to best protect the faithful,” they concluded.