Bishops in Nigeria’s Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province Urge Caution amid COVID-19 Upsurge

Archbishop Valerian Okeke of Onitsha Archdiocese, Nigeria.
Credit: Courtesy Photo

Catholic Bishops in Nigeria’s Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province have urged vigilance and caution amid reports of an increase in COVID-19 cases in the West African country. 

In a statement circulated Thursday, January 21, the Bishops say they are “painfully aware that the menace of Coronavirus is yet to lessen its devastations in many countries of the world including our beloved Country.”

They go on to issue COVID-19 measures to guide Liturgical celebrations in the Ecclesiastical Province comprising Onitsha Archdiocese and the Dioceses of Abakaliki, Awgu, Awka, Ekwulobia, Enugu, Nnewi, and Nsukka.

“All Priests, Religious and Lay faithful of our Province to be extra vigilant and cautious during this very deadly second wave of the pandemic as none of us is immune to this virus,” the Bishops say in their collective statement dated January 15.

They add, “Indications from the medical experts point to the fact that during this so-called ‘second-wave of the pandemic,’ the virus appears to be more infectious and lethal than in its first wave.”

Nigeria has seen an increase in new reported cases of COVID-19 since November last year

The West African nation has reported at least 114,691 cases of the coronavirus; 1,478 people are known to have succumbed to the effects of the virus while 92,336 people have recovered. 

In their two-page statement signed by Archbishop Valerian Okeke of Onitsha Archdiocese and Bishop Callistus Onaga, the Bishops announce the “compulsory wearing of face masks by ALL within the premises of the Church and inside the Church during Eucharistic celebrations or prayer-meetings.”

They direct that the number of Masses in parishes and chaplaincies be increased and the celebration of the Eucharist be limited to “a maximum of one and half hours for Sunday Masses and 40 minutes for weekday Masses.”

While celebrating the Sacrament of Confession, the Bishops call on the Priests and the Penitent to wear face masks.

They direct that a Cleric and Penitent be separated “with a veiled opening through which the Priest or the penitent can speak without the possibility of any saliva droplets touching the other” in the confessional.

Further, the Bishops say that the set-up of confessionals should “minimize the likelihood of many people touching the surfaces, which the next penitent might contact.”

The Bishops also announce the suspension of Catechism classes in the Ecclesiastical Province “until further notice.”

In their message, the Local Ordinaries of the eight Catholic Sees call on Priests serving in the Province to adhere to the directives issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments detailing how ashes will be distributed at the beginning of Lent Wednesday, 17 February

“In all things, we give thanks to God who has not abandoned us. He sustained our hopes and patience. He will continue to protect and guide us through the present valley of darkness,” they say in their collective statement. 

They go on to express their appreciation for the Priests, Religious and Lay faithful for “their patience, sacrifices, cooperation with the authorities, ardent faith and for having … faith in practical works of charity towards each other.”

The Bishops entrust the Ecclesiastical Province to the maternal protection and intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

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