Dioceses in Africa Seek to Align Pastoral Guidelines with State Directives over COVID-19

Coronavirus – Africa : 46 countries reporting a total 2,475 cases of COVID-19, 64 deaths (25 March 2020)
Credit: Public Domain

With at least 2,455 cases of COVID-19 confirmed across not less than 43 countries in Africa, various Catholic dioceses on the continent have announced pastoral guidelines aligned with directives issued by their respective governments in a bid to control the spread of the virus.

In South Africa where a national lockdown is scheduled to start Thursday, March 26 midnight, the Archdiocese of Johannesburg has suspended public Masses for at least the 21 days during the lockdown.

Referencing the March 23 directive by President Cyril Ramaphosa, the Archbishop of Johannesburg, Buti Tlhagale has announced, “All public Masses, both on weekdays and weekends are suspended indefinitely with effect on Thursday 26 March 2020 at midday until the lockdown is over and there is greater clarity on the way forward.”

In the March 25 statement seen by ACI Africa, the Order of Friars Minor (OFM) Prelate has also cancelled Chrism Mass “during Holy Week” and postponed it “until further notice,” a decision that conforms to the exhortations from Pope Francis published March 20.

Noting that “Easter constitutes the heart of the entire liturgical year” and “therefore cannot be transferred to a later time,” the Archbishop has announced the cancellation of “Easter Triduum celebrations (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil).”

“The Sacraments for full initiation for the candidates and catechumens will be postponed to later in the year as determined by the Archbishop in consultation with the parish priest,” the South African Prelate announced. 

With regard to Holy Thursday that marks the Lord’s Supper, the Archbishop has referenced Pope Francis’ decree.

“The Holy Father has granted in the Decree in Time of COVID-19 the faculty to all priests to celebrate this Mass ALONE and omit the procession to the place of repose - the sacrament is to be reserved in the usual tabernacle,” the Archbishop has announced in his two-page statement.

“Funeral Masses during this time are not allowed. Funeral services without a Mass may be held at the graveside but be aware of the number of attendees,” the South African Prelate has said and advised, “A memorial Mass can be scheduled for later or the funeral may be delayed altogether until later. If the Funeral service will take place kindly, consult with your local Police Station for a permit.”

For the communion to the sick, the 72-year-old Prelate has directed, “In view of the nationwide lockdown enforced by the Government, all daily/weekly ministering of Holy Communion to the house bound is cancelled. I appeal to your discretion when the danger of death presents itself. At the same time keeping in mind that "ecclesia supplet" meaning that in our ineffectiveness; the Church supplies."

“I say to you brothers and sisters, dispel your fears and never lose hope, because God is with us. Although we do not at this time publicly celebrate Holy Mass, we can still encounter Christ in our lives. Let us invoke God's grace of strength and courage as one faith family, so we can withstand our trials and difficulties,” the Archbishop has appealed.

South Africa has recorded at least 709 cases of COVID-19, the highest in Africa.

In Nigeria, the Archdiocese of Abuja has suspended common Holy Mass, in response to recent government directives.

This is a new directive that deviates from the collective guidelines of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) announced March 21 permitting the celebration of public Masses but with a “smaller congregational assembly” due to COVID-19.

Explaining the decision, the Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama has noted, in his March 24 statement, that while the national government required faith leaders to limit the number of congregants, Abuja and Lagos present a unique context, with the Secretary to the Government requiring that residents “stay at home, avoid mass congregation of any kind as well as non-essential outings, until further advice is given."

“On account of the 'stay at home' order especially for the residents of Abuja and Lagos, we hereby temporarily suspend the common celebration of the Holy Mass, Stations of the Cross, Benediction, etc.,” reads part of the statement by Abuja Archdiocese seen by ACI Africa.

In the one-page statement, Priests are advised to “celebrate live Masses and have them streamed via internet services (where possible),” while parishioners are “encouraged to participate at Masses aired on EWTN, CTV, Lumen Christi, AIT and other television channels.”

The statement also urges priests to “explain clearly to the faithful that being unable to participate physically at communal liturgical functions is also an opportunity to seek alternative ways of living our faith and prayer life to the fullest in families or neighborhoods.”

Archbishop Kaigama has also requested Priests to send out daily reflections, prayers and homilies to their parishioners using text messages, Whatsapp, Twitter, and encouraged families to pray together and celebrate the word of God.”

The latest guidelines come days after the Archdiocese issued other precautionary guidelines on the celebration of common liturgical functions.

So far, Nigeria has recorded one COVID-19 death and 46 confirmed cases.

In the world’s youngest nation, South Sudan, the Archdiocese of Juba, has in response to directives by President Salva Kiir closed Churches and Catholic institutions in the Archdiocese.


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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
[email protected]