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“Church cannot administer Sacraments by phone, modern technology”: Nigerian Archbishop

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Nigeria's Archdiocese of Abuja.

The Archbishop of Abuja in Nigeria, Ignatius Kaigama, has clarified despite restrictions on social and religious gatherings put in place as a COVID-19 measure, the Church cannot administer the Sacraments through modern technology “or by proxy.”

“There are other things you can do through modern technology but the Sacraments are a bit different, you cannot receive Holy Communion through the television or by proxy,” Archbishop Kaigama told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in an interview.

“The same with other Sacraments; it has to be on a one-on-one basis; the Sacraments of Marriage and Holy Order for instance, you cannot receive them by proxy or through Skype,” the Nigerian Prelate added.

He underscored the fact that modern technology cannot stand in the place of the required face to face encounter between a minister of God and the faithful in the administration of Sacraments saying, “You have to be physically present to receive them. It is just like when you are sick, you go to the doctor.”

He further explained, “You do not just say; Doctor, I am at home, this is my sickness and then he stays in the hospital and gives you a prescription. No! He has to examine you, check your temperature; he has to know what the problem is before treatment. The Sacraments are administered on the faithful in the same way; they are like medicines.’’

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The 61-year-old Prelate also said, “The faithful could still have access to most of the Sacraments in the Catholic Church in a controlled manner, still keeping safe and maintaining social distancing.”

“We are obeying the guidelines by the Federal Government and we have not been gathering physically but we are having Sunday live telecasts of Masses,” the Archbishop said and added, “We have also adopted the reception of Holy Communion by hands and not on the tongues to avoid contact for the few people that have been attending Masses.’’

Despite the restrictions on public gatherings, the Archbishop of Abuja said, “Priests could still pray for a sick person and anoint him in line with the recommended health guidelines.”

Archbishop Kaigama is not the first Prelate on the continent to highlight the importance of Sacraments to the Church and why they could not be administered through the Internet.

In a response to a lay Catholic faithful who sought to find out whether electronic devices were an alternative to face to face interaction with a Priest during confession, Bishop Joseph Osei-Bonsu of Ghana’s Konongo-Mampong Diocese said, “There are no sacraments on the internet. And even the religious experiences possible there by the grace of God are insufficient apart from real-world interaction with other persons of faith.”

More in Africa

Nigeria’s Centre for Disease Control on Tuesday, May 5 confirmed a total of 148 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cases in the West African nation to 2,950.

481 patients have recovered from the disease.

In an address on Monday, May 4, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari said that Africa’s most populous nation has begun a “phased and gradual” easing of more than four weeks of lockdowns in the national capital and the largest city.

Lagos and Ogun states and the federal capital territory of Abuja entered lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 on March 30.

During the Tuesday, May 5 interview, Archbishop Kaigama urged religious groups and corporate organizations to donate health facilities in support of the fight against COVID-19.

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The Local Ordinary of Abuja reconfirmed earlier reports that the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) had offered about 435 hospitals and clinics to the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 as its contribution towards combating the pandemic.

“We have shown concern, unity of purpose and commitment to fight the disease and we expect other groups to do the same,” he said.

He advised the federal government to take proper care of doctors in Nigeria who are on the frontline of the COVID-19 fight.

“Medical workers are getting scared of treating patients with or without coronavirus,” the Church leader observed adding that “there must be sufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for medical personnel.”

The Prelate urged the government to do more to ensure adequate testing facilities and enough equipment for health workers to work with.

“There should be provision for more people to get tested and healthcare workers should be equipped with PPEs so that they don’t need to run away from patients. That I have malaria may not be COVID-19,” Archbishop Kaigama said.

He went on to invite the State to provide good isolation centers for patients in order to hasten their recovery.

“If the isolation centres are not conducive, people will not be willing to open up when they are suspected to have the virus,” he said.

The Nigerian Prelate described COVID-19 pandemic as a strange disease that requires “collective discipline and commitment” to tackle and urged Nigerians to adhere to measures established by regulatory authorities to tackle the spread of the virus.

“The disease is everywhere, let us stay at home, avoid unnecessary traveling, ensure good hygiene and stay safe,” Archbishop Kaigama concluded.