, 19 September, 2020 / 10:45 PM
After close to six months of closure due to COVID-19 restrictions, churches in South Africa’s Pretoria Archdiocese are set to reopen for public worship on October 1, the Local Ordinary announced in his Thursday, September 17 statement obtained by ACI Africa.
“I hereby formally announce and instruct that all churches in the Archdiocese of Pretoria should open for public services and the resumption of the sacramental life of the Church as from the 1st of October 2020,” Archbishop Dabula Mpako of Pretoria says.
He adds, “For many of our churches this will mean resuming public Masses from the weekend of the 3rd – 4th October. However, those parishes that have the tradition of weekday Masses are free to reopen on Thursday the 1st of October 2020.”
The Archdiocese of Pretoria is one of the ecclesiastical jurisdictions in South Africa whose leadership postponed the reopening of churches even after the country’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa allowed the resumption of public worship starting June 1.
Places of worship in the Southern African nation had been closed since March 26 following a nationwide lockdown to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
“It was almost unanimously felt that we needed to keep our churches closed until a later date when the rate of infections with COVID-19 would have come down significantly and it was reasonably safe to gather again for public services,” Archbishop Mpako explains.
In the three-page September 17 statement, the 61-year-old South African Prelate explains that he settled on the October 1 as the reopening date of churches in the Archdiocese on August 25, but decided to wait for the President’s address before “giving clear direction on the details concerning the practicalities to be observed.”
In his address to the nation on Wednesday, September 16, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the country would move to COVID-19 Alert Level One on the midnight of Sunday, September 20.
“Part of the relaxations that go with the move to Alert Level One with regard to social gatherings is that religious services will no more be limited to fifty people (50) but the number of attendants will henceforward be determined according to fifty percent (50%) of the floor-space of the church or the venue used,” the Archbishop says in his September 17 statement.
However, he adds, “the maximum number in any case should not exceed 250 people in a closed space and 500 in an open space.”
In the statement addressed to the Clergy, Religious and the Faithful of the Archdiocese of Pretoria, Archbishop Mpako says catechesis classes will remain closed for the rest of 2020 except for the 2020 confirmation groups.
Confirmations will resume as from the weekend of the 10th – 11th of October 2020, he announces in his statement.
With COVID-19 still a reality that is leading to infections and related deaths, the South African Prelate cautions, “We should not approach the matter of the reopening of our churches and the resuming of public Masses in an easy-going manner.”
“We still need to faithfully observe the precautionary measures that need to be adhered to in order to avoid the spread of the virus. These will have to be strictly followed and faithfully adhered to,” he adds.
He underscores the need to observe previously-given guidelines such as compulsory wearing of masks in churches, sanitizing of hands, screening and recording all congregants, social distancing, as well as taking precautions not to expose the vulnerable population such as the elderly.
During liturgy, the Archbishop reiterates that there should be no contact during the Sign of Peace, Holy Communion should be distributed on the hand, and singing in large choirs should be avoided.
“As we slowly and carefully resume the normal life of the Church after being deprived of participation in community worship and sacramental life for a considerable period, we look forward to gathering together again and to welcoming all our parishioners back to church,” the Archbishop says.
He adds, “We continue to trust that our loving God is with us as we emerge from the worldwide crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
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