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Nigeria’s COVID-19 Lockdown “getting people close to starvation”, Bishops Concerned

Archbishop Augustine Obiora Akubeze of the Catholic Archdiocese of Benin City and President of the Catholic Bishops conference of Nigeria (CBCN)

While the countrywide stay-at-home directive and the three-state 14-day lockdown implemented in Nigeria are important measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, Catholic Bishops in the West African nation are concerned that people without savings are “getting close to starvation.”

The President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) has, as a way forward, called on the Bishops to come up with ways of reaching out to the poor people in their respective pastoral contexts.

The lockdown that was enforced March 30 on Abuja, Lagos and Ogun States “is affecting the people in terms of their daily income therefore, as they are avoiding the virus they are getting close to starvation,” CBCN President, Archbishop Augustine Obiora Akubeze stated in his April 1 letter.

Referencing the collective body of Bishops in Africa’s most populous country, Archbishop Akubeze appealed, “We are using this medium to make a passionate appeal to all Bishops to coordinate in their dioceses various means of providing aid to the poor who are significantly affected in their jurisdictions.”

“Each diocese should explore the best ways to make provisions for those whose businesses or sources of income have been affected because of the restriction of movement,” the Local Ordinary of the Archdiocese of Benin City reiterated and added, “The suffering of our people should provoke us to act from love.”

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To ensure transparency in the initiative of reaching out to the needy in the local communities, CBCN President has encouraged persons involved in the collections to “document the aid/assistance carried out by your dioceses and send the report to the Department of Church and Society of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria.”

The West African nation has recorded 184 cases of the deadly virus; 20 have recovered and two have died, according to a report.

Besides the lockdown, the authorities in Nigeria have limited public gatherings to smaller numbers and advised people to stay at home.

In his letter, Archbishop Akubeze has encouraged his brother Bishops to remain attentive to “the flock entrusted to our care,” ensuring that everyone observes “all the prescribed preventive methods recommended by the World Health Organization and other relevant bodies.”

The 63-year-old Prelate went on to call on his fellow Bishops to support the Holy Father in the fight against the pandemic by encouraging priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful “to regularly pray the Prayer composed by Pope Francis for the eradication of COVID-19.” 

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“We can pray this prayer at home,” the Nigerian Archbishop stated, recommending that “we pray it every day at noon (12:00 pm) after the Angelus prayer.” 

In a separate letter dated March 29, the President of CBCN observed that, “while the measure to suspend public Masses is understandable to some, there are others who find it difficult to understand why the Church should suspend her liturgical celebrations.”

“The current situation of COVID-19 that necessitates the imperative of social distancing, it is in harmony with faith and reason to suspend liturgical celebrations.” Archbishop Akubeze stated in the letter titled ‘Finding Peace of Conscience in the Suspension of Liturgical Celebrations.’

Regarding the Church's adherence with government’s directives issued in the fight against COVID-19, the Nigerian Prelate said, “The harmony between faith and reason necessitates that Catholics should be faithful citizens.”

“If we criticize the government when they do not do well, we should cooperate with them when they make laws that are directed towards our good,” he said and added, “when such laws are not in conflict with our faith but are destined for the good of all, to disobey just government laws out of a misconceived fidelity to the faith should be ranked under the heading of fundamentalism and fanaticism, which distort, rather than, show the truth of our faith.”

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