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South Africa’s Durban and Klerksdorp Dioceses Postpone Reopening of Churches

Days after the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa announced the possible resumption of public worship beginning June 1, a move the Catholic Bishops in the country supported, the Archbishop of Durban and the Bishop of Klerksdorp diocese have decided to postpone the reopening of the places of worship in their respective jurisdictions to allow for adequate preparations, including awareness workshops for Priests.

“We are looking at when we have had the (COVID-19) training, when we have the (preventive) measures in place and we are flattening the curve, that’s when we can consider opening Churches,” the Archbishop of Durban, Wilfrid Cardinal Napier said at the end of Pentecost Sunday Mass that was streamed live on social media.

He added, “I know it’s going to be a difficult one for many of you to accept but it’s your safety, the safety of your children and most important of all, your grandmothers, fathers, grandfathers, the elderly; those who are most vulnerable.”

Considering that the various precautionary measures required “will need a lot of planning and logistics, what happens if someone turns up and they have a high temperature? Are we then bound to call an ambulance and take responsibility for their care or what do we do?” the 79-year-old Cardinal probed May 31.

“At the moment, it’s looking like a task only very few parishes will be able to accomplish safely and that would be parishes that are very well resourced,” Cardinal Wilfrid noted and probed, “What about the parishes that do not have the resources; is it fair to say they will open, they can open and then they are going to be the first ones to suffer should something happens?”

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“Therefore, I have decided that only after every priest has been to a workshop and understands clearly what’s involved and is committed to fulfilling every one of the conditions to the letter, only after the parishioners have understood the instructions from the priests, only after that will we even consider reopening the churches,” he added.

According to the South African Prelate, “It is foolhardy to reopen Churches now when the numbers are going up; we will be accused of recklessness.”

He said that most of the 77 parishes in the Archdiocese are struggling financially due to the continued lockdown and appealed to the faithful to start making their contributions.

The Cardinal cautioned against using cash money saying, “It is one of the most dangerous things at the moment, therefore make arrangements to make your contribution electronically.”

On his part, Bishop Victor Phalana of South Africa’s Klerksdorp diocese announced a one-month preparation period before reopening. 

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“For us to get ready for reopening our parishes I would like to announce the following: The diocese of Klerksdorp will take one month to prepare for the reopening of the churches,” Bishop Phalana said in a message published on Facebook Saturday, May 30.

In the message, the Bishop outlines a series of activities to be undertaken on a weekly basis during the month of June to ensure safety when churches in his jurisdiction reopen for public worship.

The activities include meetings with Priests and other church leaders, as well as study and reflections on the statement on reopening of churches issued by the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), regulations for the same purpose by the South African Council of Churches (SACC) and a previous diocesan Pastoral Letter. 

“During week four, we, The Diocesan COVID-19 Relief Team, will deliver masks - (a limited number of 50 masks per priest/deacon),” the South African Prelate has stated in his Facebook post, adding, “Thanks to our Chancery Office and the COVID-19 relief team - there is a consignment of masks from Caritas Hong Kong coming our way.”

A thermometer will also be delivered to each priest and deacon, courtesy to a donation the leadership of the diocese has sourced from Caritas Poland, the 59-year-old Bishop revealed.

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In the same week, a pastoral letter aimed at guiding the people of God in parishes for reopening churches in July will be issued.

“During the month of June, I recommend a general cleaning of our churchyards and other buildings. Let us do repairs and maintenance. Let us ensure that we have running water and that toilets work properly,” the Bishop of Klerkscorp says in his Facebook post.

He adds, “Train those who are going to supervise the screening of members, those who are going to be responsible for the registers and those who will supervise hand-washing and the use of sanitizers. This must be a busy week for all.”

“We, as bishops, speak from the standpoint of health and safety on one hand and faith and spiritual care of the flock of Our Lord on the other hand,” he says and goes on to highlight the specific role of the Church during such pandemic.

“The church is called upon to be involved in the joys and sorrows of our people and to give them hope and comfort at this time of the pandemic,” Bishop Phalana says, adding, “This is our Kairos moment. History will judge us: Where was the Church during COVID-19? There will be some whispers: no, the Church went into hiding, focusing on self-preservation.”

The Church, in the words of Pope Francis, is there with the people - bandaging their wounds, Bishop Victor recalls in his Facebook message and adds, “Let the Church give hope and not entrench fear and panic. Spreading panic and fear is the ministry of the devil and not of the church of God.”