Churches in Gabon to Reopen Despite Government Opposition, Bishops Say

Archbishop Jean Patrick Iba-Ba of Gabon’s Libreville Archdiocese during an interview with journalists shortly after meeting with Gabon's Interior Minister.
Credit: Public Domain

Churches in Gabon will reopen for public worship on Sunday, October 25, the Catholic Bishops in the Central African nation have said in a collective message, a decision that goes against the government’s October 16 announcement to defer the resumption of public worship by five more days.  

The government of Gabon set October 30 as the day for the resumption of public worship with a 30-person congregation who must first provide their COVID-19 status and register with the Ministry of the Interior. The public worship would last an hour at most, the government directed.

“On behalf of the Episcopal Conference of Gabon (CEG) I want to emphasize that no door in our parishes will remain closed on October 25,” the Archbishop of Gabon’s Libreville, Jean Patrick Iba-Ba told journalists Tuesday, October 20, making reference to the collective decision of the Catholic Bishops in the country.

He added, “We are going to celebrate the living and true God. In a world of the living God, before opening the doors of the parishes, we must first open our hearts to God's action.”

Archbishop Iba-Ba was making reference to the Bishops’ October 4 announcement, when they indicated that public worship, which was suspended in mid-March amid COVID-19 restrictions, would resume on October 25 with the “Rite of Opening the Holy Door” in all Cathedrals in the country.

“After the closure of an operational church, even for a just cause, and for a long time, when ordained ministers and the faithful are available, it is appropriate to proceed to its reopening by a special rite, preceded by a time of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving,” the Bishops had explained in their collective message.

They announced, “On Sunday 25 October 2020, Feast of the Dedication of Consecrated Churches, we, your Bishops, will celebrate the Passion of the Lord as a great penitential act in each of our Cathedrals with the ‘Rite of Opening the Holy Door.”

During the October 20 interview with journalists, Archbishop Iba-Ba who had just had an audience with Gabon’s Interior Minister, Lambert Noël Matha, urged government officials to make decisions that “take into consideration the welfare of the Gabonese people.”

Members of Catholic groups, associations, and movements in Gabon have rallied behind their Bishops, disagreeing with the government.

“It is with sadness that we have been subjected to unending extensions of preventive measures,” the members of the Catholic Women Association of Gabon (AFCG) say in their October 20 statement.

They add, “AFGC condemns the Government's position to further tighten the preventive measures with a discriminatory application towards places of worship.”

“We have noticed that the markets that we regularly visit are filled with people without any respect for the proposed measures, and in front of passive security forces. Thus, the mask, when it is worn, is not worn correctly: it is often on the chin. Similarly, there is no social distancing,” the members of AFCG say.

They continue with the query, “Why then demand 30 people per place of worship despite a negative test, the wearing of the mask, and the washing of hands?”

In the statement signed by AFCG President, Jacqueline Obone-Mba, the Catholic women acknowledge with appreciation the Bishops’ “wise and divine decision to reopen places (of worship) on October 25.”

Reminding all the women of the Catholic Church in Gabon of the role played by women in the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments, the members of AFCG invite “all Catholic Christians in Gabon to massively participate in the different Masses on Sunday, 25 October 2020, according to the programs of each parish.”

In a collective statement issued Wednesday, October 21, the leadership of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Bishops’ conference invites “all members, well-wishers and sympathizers to go as one to church on October 25, 2020, to celebrate together the opening of our churches in order to respond to the real coronavirus that our Bishops have just detected in Gabon with the clear-sightedness of the Holy Spirit.”

“It is better to obey God than men,” the leadership of the Justice and Peace Commission says.

“After having honorably and respectfully given to Caesar what is Caesar's by suspending for 8 months all charismatic prayer assemblies, Eucharistic celebrations and the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, in order to avoid the spread of the coronavirus in our country, the time has now come to give back to God what is God's,” the leadership of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal says in a message issued Wednesday, October 21.

In response to the call made by the Bishops in Gabon, the leadership of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal invites “all members of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Gabon to take part in the Masses on Sunday, October 25 in all the parishes of our country.”


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