, 30 March, 2020 / 6:30 AM
With three confirmed COVID-19 cases and one related death in Zimbabwe, Catholic Bishops in the Southern African nation on Tuesday, March 24 resolved to close all Churches in the country, to facilitate “effective self-isolation for all.”
“We have, therefore, further resolved as a Conference to close all Catholic Churches for public liturgical services and Church related gatherings with immediate effect on this 24 day of March 2020, until further notice, to allow for effective self-isolation for all,” reads part of a statement by the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC) seen by ACI Africa.
The Bishops have added in their collective statement, “This will mean that all of us will have to stay and pray at home, including sharing the Sacred Scriptures and saying the Rosary individually and as a family.”
The Bishops have instructed Priests to celebrate individual Mass in their respective parishes and institutions on a daily basis, a culture that they (Bishops) have said will ensure “that the faithful can join in spiritual communion with the priests of the Church.”
“Knowing that Mass is being celebrated; joining in spiritually in that celebration; watching the live-streaming of the Mass where possible; following its prayers; making an act of spiritual communion: this is how we will share in the Sacrifice of Christ in these days,” the Bishops have stated and added, “These are the ways in which we will sanctify Sunday, and indeed every day.”
On March 23, Zimbabwe joined Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon to record its first COVID-19 related death, that of 30-year-old broadcaster, Zororo Makamba.
Meanwhile, the country’s public hospital doctors and nurses went on strike Wednesday, March 25 over the lack of protective gear as the coronavirus begins to spread in a country whose health system has almost collapsed, local media reported.
It's the latest blow to a nation where some patients' families are asked to provide such basics as gloves and clean water.
In line with Catechism of the Catholic Church N° 2181, the bishops in Zimbabwe have, in the two-page statement, lifted the obligation on the part of the faithful to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days “in these emergency circumstances, and for as long as they last.”
“Nevertheless, even while we are at home during these disturbing and threatening times, the rhythm of the prayer of the Church will continue,” the Prelates have stated and urged, “Please play your part in it. The effort of daily kindness and mutual support for all will continue and increase. Please play your part in this too.”
As a precaution, the Bishops have cautioned against pastoral visits to people in self-quarantine until the isolation ends, but instead recommended psychological support to them through the phone.
When anointing the sick, the Bishops have advised, the Oil of the Sick can be applied, using a cotton bud, which can be burned afterwards (one end for the head and the other for the hands), and the priest extends his hands over the sick person for laying on of hands, without physical contact.
The method the Prelates say “has been confirmed as a valid mode of celebrating the sacraments which involve laying on of hands.”
The Bishops have added, “Please exercise caution should you need to administer any other sacraments at this time.”
Concerning burial ceremonies, the Bishops have advised, “Let us leave burials to close family members and associates, even for clergy and religious, in this season of the pandemic, which we pray will be short.”
The collective message of the seven Prelates encourages the faithful to observe government guidelines against COVID-19 saying, “Our obedience in this time of crisis is an act of charity.”
“The most effective witness we can give is first of all a serene and committed obedience to what is demanded by those who govern us, both at the state and ecclesial level, to all that is disposed to safeguard our health, both as private citizens and as a nation,” the Bishops have stated.
The March 24 statement follows the Bishops’ March 17 collective message, in which the Church leaders 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.
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Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa