“It is unwise to open churches at this time for public worship”: South African Archbishop

Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town, South Africa.

Days after two Local Ordinaries in South Africa announced the postponement of the reopening of churches in their jurisdictions, the Archbishop of Cape Town has also made a similar announcement, saying it is unwise to gather amid increasing COVI-19 infections in the country.

“After a great deal of discussion, dialogue and seeking advice, I believe it is unwise, at this time, to open our churches for public worship,” Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town says.

In his Wednesday, June 3 statement seen by ACI Africa, Archbishop Brislin says that “the trajectory of the Covid-19 virus in South Africa is still upwards. The recommendation is usually that the infection rate should be going downwards before lockdown restrictions are eased.”

South Africa has has recorded at least 35,812 COVID-19 cases, 17,291 recoveries, and 705 related deaths.

In a televised address to the nation May 26, President Ramaphosa announced that places of worship in the country “may reopen under strict conditions” during lockdown Level 3 on 1 June, with a 50-person congregation or less, depending on available space.

Archbishop Brislin is for a “phased process of reopening churches.”

In his two-page statement, he says, “It would (be) excessively dangerous and the risk too great simply to begin Masses in all parishes with 50 people.”

“Preparation is necessary,” the 63-year-old South African Archbishop says and adds, “We are not going to allow public worship (Mass, Communion Services, Rosary etc) to commence at this time. A decision will be made at a later stage when we will have public worship.”

Following his decision to postpone the reopening of churches for public worship, Archbishop Brislin has extended the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, which has been in place since the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) suspended Public Mass in March.

In his June 3 statement, the Local Ordinary of Cape Town directs Parish Priests to use the next few weeks to prepare for public worship by putting in place necessary anti-COVID-19 measures such as acquiring sanitizers, infrared thermometers and registers, as well as demarcating sitting arrangements to ensure adherence to social distancing.

Every parish must have a trained Covid-19 officer, the Archbishop directed.

He goes on to appeal to Priests who have been live-streaming their celebration of Holy Eucharist to help promote behavior change by inviting not more than six parishioners to attend the Mass once all measures are in place.

The parishioners attending the Mass, the Archbishop says, must observe all the regulations in order for the process to be embedded in their practice.

“The primary purpose of this is to model appropriate behavior change to serve as an example to all parishioners,” the Archbishop clarified.

Once equipped, the Prelate says, churches may open their doors at designated daylight hours for private prayer not exceeding 20 minutes, and not more than 5 people at any one time. During the prayer time, the faithful must observe screening and hygiene regulations, he underscores.

“Once a certain routine has been established, the provisions for public worship with a limited number of people will be introduced (notification will be given to parishes), but this will be limited to 6 people,” he further says.

In the event that a COVID-19 positive person requires visiting or anointing, the Archbishop has directed that younger Priests be asked to give assistance to aged Priests.

“The protection and well-being of priests over 60 and those with pre-existing conditions must be safeguarded,” Archbishop Brislin explains.

“Let us remain strong and steadfast in our faith, ensuring that we persevere in these difficult days. Jesus ascended to heaven but he remains always with us, so let us never doubt his presence among us. We place all our trust in God who creates and redeems,” the Archbishop concludes.

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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
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