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Provide COVID-19 Vaccine Education to Dispel Fear, Bishop in South Africa Urges Government

There is no proper information on the COVID-19 vaccine that is set to be administered to South Africans to combat the coronavirus, which is fast spreading in the country, a Catholic Bishop in the country has said.

In an interview with ACI Africa earlier this week, Bishop Joseph Kizito of South Africa’s Aliwal Diocese said that there is a lot of distorted information about the vaccine and that the situation is already causing a lot of anxiety among the people.

The Ugandan-born Bishop called upon the South African government to educate the masses on the safety and possible side effects of the vaccine.

“The only information that the people have about the COVID-19 vaccine is constructed from rumors because no one has provided them with proper information concerning the vaccine. Some are already saying that the vaccine is about globalization and that those who are inoculated will not be able to bear children,” Bishop Kizito told ACI Africa Monday, January 4.

He added, “As Shepherds of these people, we must get assurance about the safety of the vaccine to reassure the people. At the moment, there isn’t such information and we don’t know what to tell them.”

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Bishop Kizito also called upon Church ministers “to stand up as pastors and to tell people to get vaccinated should the vaccine come.”

South Africa is experiencing a new wave of COVID-19 infections characterized by what scientists have termed as a new variant of the coronavirus and which Bishop Kizito says is “more violent.”

“The infections are worse than what we have experienced before. The virus is killing so many people and people are more scared than they were when COVID-19 was first reported,” the Bishop said.

Sharing about his own experience, he narrated, “I have lost so many people that I knew in the Church. We lose two to three Catholics every day. Just the other day, we buried a Priest. Many Religious Sisters have also been taken in this new wave of infections.”

Just before Christmas, the leadership of the Conference of Catholic Sisters in South Africa expressed concern over a surge in COVID-19 infections and related deaths in religious communities in the country.

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In their December 18 statement, the Leadership Conference of Consecrated Life (LCCLSA) highlighted the death of six Sisters from the Daughters of Saint Francis in Port Shepstone, Marianhill Diocese who died within a week, and urged members of the various Religious Orders and Societies of Apostolic Life in South Africa to adhere to COVID-19 preventive measures.

In the January 4 interview with ACI Africa, Bishop Kizito said that the current situation of COVID-19 in South Africa is a terrible way to start the year.

“We missed a lot of interactions last year owing to the pandemic. We prayed a lot and hoped that the new year would be different. But that was not to be,” the Bishop who has been at the helm of Aliwal Diocese in the Ecclesiastical province of Eastern Cape since his ordination in February 2020 told ACI Africa.

The people of God stayed away on key Church occasions and missed out on cultural celebrations, he said recalling effects of COVID-19 restrictions since early 2020.

“We didn’t have a good Christmas. We never celebrated New Year in the Church. No celebration on the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and nothing on the Epiphany. Just deaths and gloom,” the 53-year-old Bishop further recalled.

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Members of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) are organizing their annual Plenary Assembly, which will, once again, be conducted virtually.

According to native of Uganda’s Kampala Archdiocese who was incardinated in Aliwal Diocese at his diaconate ordination in December 1996, the two-week SACBC meeting would be more efficient were it to be physical.

“For two years, we shall not have our usual one-on-one interactions,” Bishop Kizito told ACI Africa, adding, “Physical interactions normally build us a lot since we get an opportunity to share our experiences. We usually have in-depth discussions on topics. With zoom meetings, there is no luxury of discussing issues in a deeper way.”

The Prelate who started governing the South African Diocese shortly before the pandemic struck says that he has never had a normal term as Shepherd of the people of God in the Diocese.

“Since my ordination, the Church has been running very low. All Parishes were forced to cut their costs dramatically and we have survived by God’s grace. And now, we closed our Parishes for another three weeks to monitor the infections and to keep our people safe,” Bishop Kizito shares.

In South Africa, well-off Dioceses have been called upon to help those that are struggling financially. Already, well-off Parishes in some Dioceses such as Port Elizabeth are supporting weaker Parishes within the Diocese.

All the challenges notwithstanding, and as South Africa clings on the hope of getting a COVID-19 vaccine, the Bishop has urged calm and more prayers within families.

“We are telling people to go back once more and keep on praying within their families where they are safe,” Bishop Kizito sad.

He added during the January 4 interview with ACI Africa, “Yesterday (Sunday), I visited about five families to pray with them. We are doing this to reassure our people that we will never abandon them during this difficult time.”