, 15 July, 2020 / 9:30 PM
Members of the Episcopal Conference of Togo (CET) have, in a collective statement, announced the resumption of public worship in select parishes across the country in a bid to minimize the risk of COVID-19 infections.
The announcement follows the consultative meeting between religious leaders and the Togolese government during which an “experimental reopening of places of worship” was agreed.
“The partial reopening of the places of worship is scheduled for this Friday, July 17, 2020. The Catholic Church in Togo has taken steps to ensure that the resumption of Eucharistic celebrations takes place in strict compliance of the safety measures imposed by the Togolese government as part of the fight against the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in our country,” the members of CET announce in their collective statement dated July 12.
They add, “For this first phase of the partial reopening of places of worship, a total of 146 Catholic parishes have been selected to serve the people of God through the nation.”
On July 7, the Togolese Minister of Territorial Administration, Decentralization and Local Authorities, Payadowa Boukpessi held a meeting with the country's religious leaders.
The parties agreed on “a gradual, partial and experimental reopening of places of worship in strict respect of safety measures,” according to a local media report.
The Catholic Church, the Christian Council and the Muslim Union of Togo were authorized to open five churches and mosques in each administrative region, and three in each division.
Places of worship have remained closed in Togo since March, as elsewhere on the continent, to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
With a population of just less than 8 million, the West African nation has reported 731 cases of COVID-19, including 528 recoveries and 15 related deaths.
In their July 12 statement, the Bishops in Togo also announce the unveiling of new safety measures to guide public worship in the selected parishes.
“Access to Eucharistic celebrations is now subject to the obligatory wearing of masks. Before entering the churches, all the faithful will be subjected to disinfection and hand washing,” the Bishops in Togo direct in their collective statement signed by the President of CET, Bishop Benoît Alowonou.
They add, “The holy water fonts will be temporarily suspended and the entrance doors will be different from the exit doors after mass to avoid crowd.”
The members of CET continue, “A distance of at least 1.5 meters will be required. If the faithful come to the celebration with their missal or hymn book, they will keep it for themselves during the time of the celebration.”
They limit the number of choir members during Mass to a maximum of 10 and direct that all Parishes form “a protocol commission” that is expected to “help the faithful better observe the directives.”
“Seats will be marked before each celebration. This will not be necessary for members of the same family, living under the same roof: People from the same family may share the same seat,” the members of CET say.
They announce the suspension of the offertory procession and recommend that “wide-open trunks or baskets” be availed before Mass begins.
“It is also possible to place wide-open trunks or baskets in a well-indicated place so that the faithful who wish to do so can put their offerings while respecting the safety measures,” the Bishops say and add, “Those who are going to count the money of the offering will wash their hands before and after the counting. They will keep their masks on during this service, respecting, of course, the barrier measures.’
“The faithful will no longer gather at the exit in front of the church or in its courtyard. Any grouping will respect the safety measures,” the Catholic Bishops in Togo direct and “strongly” recommend that the instructions contained in their collective letter “be briefly announced before each celebration.”
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