, 02 July, 2020 / 11:36 PM
The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), an umbrella body of all Catholic Prelates in Kenya is proposing the celebration of Holy Mass within rural-based Small Christian Communities (SCCs) in a set of guidelines the Bishops have developed for re-opening of churches in the Eastern African country.
In a statement shared with ACI Africa Thursday, July 2, the Bishops reiterate the guidelines that have been proposed by the country’s Ministry of Health towards the safe re-opening of places of worship and go ahead to propose a COVID-19 strategy that will be specific to the Catholic Church.
The guidelines highlight specific ways in which liturgies will be celebrated in adherence to new requirements for the celebration of Sacraments as well as how Church ministers will be expected to conduct themselves with the new norms.
For urban set-ups, the Bishops have proposed the increase of the number of Masses while parishes in the rural setting have been directed to conduct their Sunday Mass within the confines of their SCCs.
“For rural set-up, encourage and celebrate Sunday Masses in the Small Christian Communities where the number is easily manageable,” the Bishops in Kenya say in their collective statement dated June 30 but circulated Thursday, July 2.
Borrowing from the list of requirements by Kenya’s Ministry of Health that recommends a 1.5-metre social distancing, the Bishops outline considerations for a projected four-phased re-opening of places of worship that limits Sunday Mass attendance to only 15 percent occupancy in the first phase.
This will progress to 25 percent occupancy in the second phase, 50 percent occupancy and finally 100 percent in the final phase of re-opening of places of worship.
In the event that capacity restrictions are difficult to put in place, the Bishops say that Parish leaders can consider organizing the celebration of Mass on any day other than Sunday or vigil Mass on Saturday evening “to help spread out population and afford others the opportunity to also be present as permissible.”
The Catholic Church leaders in Kenya came up with the guidelines about a month after their meeting with top government leaders in the country in which they were charged with the responsibility to define a way that would see the lifting of the ban on public worship in the country that was declared on March 22.
The recommendations were also shared with ACI Africa a day after Kenya recorded its highest ever number of COVID-19 cases in a single day, with 307 people having tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday, July 1, bringing the tally to 6,673 including 149 deaths and 2,089 recoveries.
In the eight-page statement signed by KCCB chairman, Archbishop Philip Anyolo, the Prelates in Kenya note that the faithful have stayed away from their places of worship for too long and have eagerly awaited the resumption of public worship.
“We, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, are aware that the life of our mission stems from the Mass and the Sacrament. It is here that our people are inspired to serve their brothers and sisters in the entire community, and are sent forth to engage in evangelization and charitable works,” the Bishops say.
“Our Christian Faithful are eager to resume public worship in a safe and responsible manner and in coordination with the Government and the Ministry of Health,” the leaders of the Catholic Church in Kenya further say and note, “All of us believe that worship is an essential service.”
They reiterate the governments call to promote healthy hygiene practices such provision of sanitizers at the entrance of churches, regular sanitization of churches, use of masks as well as protection of vulnerable populations by encouraging elderly persons and people with pre-existing conditions to remain at home while the rest attend church services.
Additionally, considerations during celebrations of weddings and other religious ceremonies have been put in place and will include allowing only about 100 people to attend the ceremonies in the initial phases of re-opening of public worship.
As for religious funerals, attendance will be limited to 200 people out of which only close relatives and Church ministers will be allowed at the graveside. The Bishops also discourage eating at funerals.
Should the proposal satisfy the government and other concerned partners, the Bishops have recommended that special committees be formed by Priests in various parishes as well as COVID-19 response teams in parishes and deaneries who will be trained to monitor the implementation of the guidelines.
There will also be regular meetings with Church leaders and interfaith forums to update and review the implantation of the proposals, the Bishops direct.
Besides the new liturgical requirements, the Bishops have also outlined new guidelines that will inform the celebration of the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Anointing of the sick and Confession and how the Clergy will be expected to preside over the Sacraments and handle sacramentals.
Concerning the sacrament of Confession, for instance, the Bishops say, “Confessions should follow safe social distancing practices and be carried out in a well-ventilated area, outdoors or in the main Church.”
They add, “The penitent area, including any surface touched by the penitent should be sanitized by the penitent at the end of their confession.”
Issuing the guidelines in anticipation of re-opening of churches, the Prelates call for patience.
“We continue to urge you to be patient as we wait for the outcome of the Inter-Faith Council that was appointed by the President to give a roadmap towards reopening the places of worship,” the Bishops say in their June 30 statement.
They add, “Let us continue praying for this pandemic to come to an end through the intercession of Blessed Virgin Mary and all the Saints. Let us never forget that our help is in the name of God who made heaven and earth.”
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