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Church Leadership in Gambia Suspends Public Masses as COVID-19 Cases Increase

Bishop Gabriel Mendy of the Gambia's Diocese of Banjul.

Following an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in The Gambia in recent weeks, the Bishop of the lone Catholic Diocese in the West African nation has once again suspended the celebration of public Mass and other Church gatherings.

“I have decided in conjunction with the college of consultors to suspend all public Masses and celebration of the sacraments in our parishes and schools until further notice,” says the Bishop of Banjul Diocese, Gabriel Mendy in his statement issued Wednesday, August 5.

Bishop Mendy explains the reasons for the decision saying, “It is as a result of the increasing and overwhelming number of COVID-19 cases and deaths over the past two weeks and the dangers and risks experienced by both the Priests, Religious, Seminarians and Lay faithful and all of God’s people. Hence, it is necessary to take drastic steps and actions to preserve life in this state of emergency.”

COVID-19 cases in the smallest country in mainland Africa have increased by over 60 percent in the last seven days to nearly 800 cases, Reuters reported.

Government officials have attributed the spike to people relaxing in observing preventive measures that had so far kept The Gambia’s case total as the lowest in Africa.

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The West African nation has now recorded 799 cases including 116 recoveries and 16 related deaths, according to statistics from Worldometers.

In the August 5 statement, the Local Ordinary of Banjul notes, “We are faced with a very critical and urgent choice at this moment of our journey in faith and our existence as God’s chosen people in the Diocese of Banjul, The Gambia.”

Referencing the Book of Deuteronomy, the 52-year-old Prelate reflects, “Our choice at hand, that we all have to make the right decision is exactly the same as the life and death option Moses presented to God’s chosen people in Deut. 30:19-20.”

“The action plan and directives that was presented on the 22nd of March this year at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic will now be reintroduced with immediate effect,” says the Gambian Prelate who is a member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans).  

Referencing the restrictions issued in March, Bishop Mendy has directed that “daily and Sunday Masses will only be celebrated in private on behalf of the faithful and not publicly in the parishes.” 

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He has invited the faithful and their families “to spiritually participate in Masses that will be relayed and streamed live on the Facebook page of the Gambian Pastoral Institute and on some radio and Television stations.”

In his August 5 statement, the Prelate also announces, “There will be no diocesan celebration of the solemnity of Our Lady’s Assumption and her Coronation as Queen of Heaven and Earth on the 15th and 22nd, respectively. The faithful should not, therefore, gather for any celebration, procession and entertainment.”

He adds, “All weddings, baptisms, reconciliation services, communion services, adoration vigils, retreats and meetings will be suspended with immediate effect until further notice.”

“The use of the mask is mandatory for all. And the practice of social distance, washing of hands with disinfectants and checking of temperatures must be implemented,” Bishop Mendy further says.

In order to ensure that the faithful are spiritually nourished during this time, the Bishop has, in the two-page statement, invited families to meditate on the “daily and Sunday Mass readings and the life of the Saints as well as conduct family sharing of scriptures and live by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

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In the statement, he also urges the faithful in union with the Holy Father, Pope Francis to “offer daily prayers and supplication for the healing of COVID-19 patients, the protection of doctors, nurses and medical workers, for God's intervention to eradicate the coronavirus disease and a medical cure to this pandemic.”

The Spiritan Prelate also advices the people of God in The Gambia “never to allow yourself at any point in time to be deceived or misled by anyone who purports to have a spiritual or any form of cure to the coronavirus pandemic.”

He explains, “The reintroduction of these drastic actions and measures, again, may be harsh and unbearable, but they are in accordance with the right reason and absolutely necessary in order to preserve God's sacred gift of life to us.” 

“For the sake of our life and good health, we should sacrifice our desire to celebrate the Eucharist as a community of faith, to witness our traditional celebration of our lady’s assumptions and to socialize and entertain ourselves during this summer season,” Bishop Mendy, a native of Lamin in Gambia’s only Catholic Diocese of Banjul concludes.