, 13 July, 2020 / 10:00 PM
After Kenya’s Government announced the “conditional” and partial easing of COVID-19 restrictions last week, Catholic Bishops in the East African nation have called on the people of God in the East African nation to take “personal and social responsibility seriously” if the country has to reopen.
“The full unlocking of the Country is dependent on everyone taking personal responsibility in containing the spread of coronavirus to a flattened curve. With this in mind, we your Shepherds, call upon each one of us to take our Presidents' call to personal and social responsibility seriously,” members of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) say in a collective message read out at the end of a televised Mass, Sunday, July 12.
In the message, the Bishops note that the phased reopening of the country is accompanied “with anxieties and fears over the increasing number of persons infected and affected with Covid-19.”
On July 6, Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta announced a “conditional” and phased re-opening of the country, easing some of the COVID-19 restrictions including the lifting of “cessation of movement into and out of the Nairobi Metropolitan Area, Mombasa Country and Mandera County.”
“By re-opening Nairobi, Mombasa and Mandera, we are more at risk than we were when the restrictions were in place,” President Kenyatta said July 6 and called on those in Kenya to “exercise cautious optimism, and avoid reckless abandon.”
The President also announced the “phased reopening for congregational worship and public (in-person) worship” in line with “the self-regulating guidelines developed by the Inter-Faith Council.”
He said that “experts and stakeholders” in Kenya had come to a consensus “that we have reached a reasonable level of preparedness across the country to allow us to re-open.”
“The order to re-open is given conditionally,” President Kenyatta cautioned and clarified in reference to his order for partial re-opening, “Should the situation deteriorate and pose a challenge to our health infrastructure, it shall be ‘clawed back’.”
The President further said, “In the next 21 days, we shall study patterns of interactions and the spread of the disease. Any trends that signal a worsening of the pandemic, we will have no choice but to return to the lock-down at zero-option.”
Against this backdrop, the Catholic Bishops in Kenya are advocating for responsible behavior, both at personal level and at the level of society.
At a personal level, the Bishops say, “each one of us should be conscious of the risk factors that facilitate the spread of COVID-19 and be ready and committed to observe the basic COVID-19 preventive measures and the directives from the Ministry of Health.”
It is also a personal responsibility to ensure that other people are safe from contracting COVID-19 by training and constantly reminding them to strictly adhere to all the health containment measures, the Bishops say in their collective message read out by KCCB Chairman, Archbishop Philip Anyolo.
At the level of the society, Archbishop Anyolo who presided over the televised Mass at the Holy Family Minor Basilica in Nairobi said, “each one of us should be more conscious of the high risk of COVID-19 infections to the elderly, the children, and those with underlying conditions of our families.”
He added on behalf of the Bishops in Kenya referencing vulnerable members of society, “These members of our society need to be safeguarded and protected from contracting Covid-19. In this, we should be guided by the word of God to care for one another.”
The Bishops express their awareness about the “many people whose means of livelihood have adversely been affected by the pandemic” and call on the people of God in Kenya to live the values of compassion and generosity enshrined in our “cultures, religions” and the Gospel of Matthew “by feeding the hungry, taking care of the sick, clothing the naked, and giving water to the thirsty.”
Kenya has recorded at least 10,105 COVID-19 cases, 185 related deaths and 2,881 recoveries.
In response to the eased COVID-19 restrictions that have allowed a phased resumption of public worship, the leadership of Kenya’s Archdiocese of Nairobi has issued pastoral and liturgical guidelines in readiness for “Sunday, 19th July when we shall officially re-open our places of worship.”
The guidelines are founded on protocols issued by the Inter-faith Council as well as those issued by the members of KCCB, including measures such as sufficient stations for handwashing, proper wearing of face masks, use of thermal guns, cleaning and disinfecting places of worship and ensuring their ventilation, and physical distancing of at least 1.5 meters between congregants, among other precautions.
In the three-page July 12 letter addressed to Priests, Religious men and women and the Laity, the Archbishop of Nairobi, John Cardinal Njue says that “the celebration of sacrament of Baptism for infant remains suspended” except “in danger of death.”
Cardinal Njue gives room for Confession, which “should follow safe social distancing practices and be carried out in a well-ventilated area” and that both the priest and the penitent wear masks and “an impermeable barrier should be placed between the priest and the penitent.”
“It is recommended that during this period to limit the celebration of the Anointing of the Sick to those who are dying and those about to undergo serious surgery,” the Kenyan Cardinal directs in the July 12 letter.
He directs that the celebrations of matrimony and funeral adhere to guidelines by Government.
“I recommend that each Parish forms a Covid-19 Response Team to assist the faithful in adhering to the Ministry of Health guidelines,” Cardinal Njue says and underscores the need to take the “guidelines seriously so that we may adequately prepare the faithful for the second phase of the re-opening of our places of worship.”
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