, 15 May, 2020 / 4:20 AM
Bishops in the southeastern Africa nation of Malawi have resolved to "resume forthwith" public liturgical celebrations and outlined safety measures to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19 during the meetings.
In a collective statement following their three-day meeting during which they consulted “various people including medical experts on COVID-19,” the Bishops in Malawi announced “that all Church gatherings and communal liturgical celebrations should resume forthwith in Churches and Small Christian Communities.”
They highlighted a raft of measures aimed at safeguarding those who will come together for the liturgical celebrations ranging from administering sacraments, hygiene, receiving of the Holy Communion, among other practices.
“Wherever possible, everyone should use face masks when attending Church gatherings and funeral functions,” the Bishops stated in their collective letter dated May 8.
“During such gatherings, the Presidential Decree made on 20th March 2020, which restricts congregants to not more than 100 while strictly observing social distance will be adhered to,” the Bishops directed and added, “In Churches where this may not be possible, Catholic faithful must be encouraged to congregate in an open space.”
Addressing Clerics in the country, the Bishops directed, “In the event that priests are called upon to administer Sacraments such as anointing of the sick who are in danger of death, they must seek medical advice from competent health professionals and ensure that they protect themselves and others by using Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs).”
However, they said, “elderly priests and those with underlying medical conditions are not obliged to preside over public Holy Masses, conducting funerals or anointing the sick.”
They added, “old people and all those with underlying medical problems are dispensed from Church attendance and funerals until the situation improves.”
Priests and religious “should consider all gatherings such as the Holy Mass, funeral functions etc. as occasions for conducting public awareness on the seriousness and dangers of COVID-19 so as to help the faithful understand the spirit and importance of Guidelines in Public Health Act and ECM Guidelines in preventing further spread of coronavirus,” the eight Church leaders stated in their two-page letter.
They further directed that priests and religious in the country ensure that “the faithful strictly follow basic rules of hygiene namely, washing hands with soap regularly and thoroughly, avoiding physical greeting and contact, observing social distancing of 4 metres from others; avoiding to touch eyes, nose and mouth; covering mouth and nose with a bent elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing; avoiding spitting in public and avoiding attending public gatherings or events.”
Writing under their umbrella body, the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM), the Prelates also directed that “pastoral activities, which by their nature bring together large numbers of people such as ordinations, confirmations etc. should be suspended or postponed until the situation improves.”
“In the event that an ordination ceremony takes place, the Presidential Decree on restricting congregants to not more than 100 should be strictly followed while observing social distance,” the Bishops clarified.
In March, Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika declared the COVID-19 virus a national disaster and ordered that all education institutions in the country be closed. The Head of State also restricted public gatherings to 100 people at most.
Following the President’s directive, Catholic Bishops in the landlocked country went on to issue guidelines for the celebration of the Holy Mass and other liturgical services in an effort to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Dubbed ECM guidelines, the Church leaders directed that the Eucharist be received in the hands and not on the tongue, priests receive Holy Communion by intinction where there is concelebration of Mass, and holy water fonts be drained, among other directives.
Malawi has recorded 63 cases of the coronavirus disease among them 24 recoveries and three deaths.
Meanwhile, on Friday, May 8, the Supreme Court of Malawi upheld the annulment of President Peter Mutharika’s election victory.
Divisions and unrest followed last year’s May 21 disputed elections after the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) declared Mr. Mutharika, leader of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), winner with 38.57 percent of the vote against the leader of Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Lazarus Chakwera who garnered 35.41 percent. The country’s former Vice President Saulos Chilima of United Transformation Movement (UTM) received 20.24 percent of the votes.
Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and the United Transformation Movement (UTM) filed election petition last August on grounds of fraud during the poll. The constitutional court of the country annulled the election on February 3, directing that a new vote be held within 151 days, with Mr. Mutharika remaining in power until a new election is conducted.
President Mutharika appealed the ruling at the Supreme Court. Malawi’s top court rejected the appeal in its May 8 ruling, explaining that the 137 grounds in the appeal were fictitious and embarrassing.
The re-run is expected on July 2.
The Southeastern Africa country has continued witness, which has most recently been condemned by the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), an umbrella organization for the major faith communities in the country.
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