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Bishop in Swaziland Suspends Public Liturgies amid Upsurge in COVID-19 Reported Cases

Our Lady of Assumption Cathedral in Swaziland.

The Bishop of Manzini, the lone Catholic Diocese in Swaziland has resuspended the celebration of public Liturgies in line with the government’s ban on all forms of gatherings following an increase in reported cases of COVID-19.

“All Eucharistic Celebrations (including Requiem Masses), Liturgies and Para-liturgies are to be celebrated ONLY by Priests without the participation of the faithful,” says Bishop José Luis Ponce de León in a Friday, January 8 statement obtained by ACI Africa.

Bishop Ponce de León encourages the faithful to “pray in our homes and in our private spaces.”

“Prayer and caring for each other is the only weapon we have against the COVID-19 enemy,” the member of the Consolata Missionaries says, adding, “Let us all take care of ourselves and others in our vicinity.”

The Bishop’s directive follows the Thursday, January 7 announcement banning all gatherings by Swaziland’s acting Prime Minister, Themba Masuku, a ban occasioned by an increase in reported COVID-19 cases.

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The Southern African nation, officially the Kingdom of Eswatini, reported 234 new cases of the coronavirus on January 7 alone, bringing the cumulative total of reported cases 10,773 including 268 fatalities and 7,377 recoveries. 

The ban on all gatherings in the country, which takes effect from midnight January 8 is expected to be in place for the next two weeks.

Making reference to the letter of Saint Paul to the Romans in his January 8 statement, Bishop Ponce de León expresses his solidarity with families of those who have succumbed to the coronavirus saying, “Neither death nor life nor any created thing will be able to separate us from the Love of Christ.”

The Argentinian-born Bishop directs that “only funerals will be celebrated with the participation of the Faithful” in conformity with the government's directive that allows a maximum of 50 people to attend burial ceremonies.

The 59-year-old Bishop who has been at the helm of Manzini since his installation in January 2014 has also discouraged members of the Clergy from receiving visitors in their Private living quarters.

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He also discourages Clergy members from visiting one another “in Parishes but to be in constant communication with each other over the telephone and other means of communication.”

Bishop Ponce de León who took his first vows in the Religious Order of the Consolata Missionary in January 1983 “humbly” requests Nuns dwelling in the 1.1-million-population country to refrain from having visitors in their convents. 

“They should also limit their travel for essential services ONLY,” the Bishop says, addressing himself to Catholic Nuns in Swaziland.

The Bishop’s plea to members of the Clergy and Religious Sisters comes weeks after six Nuns from the Daughters of Saint Francis in Port Shepstone, Marianhill Diocese in neighboring South Africa succumbed to COVID-19.

Following the death of the Sisters, officials of the Leadership Conference of Consecrated Life (LCCLSA) called on “all religious congregations and communities to be extra vigilant and cautious in light of the deadly and subtle Second Wave of the pandemic.”

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“None of us is immune to this pandemic,” LCCLSA President, Sr. Nkhensani Shibambu said and added, “We remain our own best defense against the virus and the least we can do is to continue adhering to the safety protocols of COVID-19 prevention and containment.”