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South African Diocese Launches Initiative to Bring People Back to Church after Lockdown

Bishop Joseph Kizito of South Africa's Aliwal North Diocese, Ugandan-born Bishop Joseph Kizito blessing the people of God at a past event

South Africa’s Aliwal Diocese is planning a five-week program on reflections that are aimed at bringing people back to Church after a protracted COVID-19 lockdown in the country.

Dubbed Small Christian Community (SCC) Notes for Reflection, the program that is being spread across the entire Lenten Season addresses different topics for reflection, exploring the experiences that the people in the Diocese within the Ecclesiastical province of Eastern Cape have gone through during the pandemic.

In an interview with ACI Africa when he spoke about the Diocese’s preparedness for Ash Wednesday, Bishop Joseph Kizito said that people are scared of going back to Church even after Prelates in the country announced resumption of public worship.

“There is a feeling of detachment among the people. You can also clearly see the fear on the faces of people who are coming to Church. This program will try to bring back the mood we had in Church before COVID-19 came,” said Bishop Kizito.

According to the Local Ordinary of Aliwal Diocese, the Church was “stigmatized” at the onset of the pandemic, making people believe that they were more likely to get infected with the virus when they went to a religious gathering than they were when they went to any other social gathering or public place.

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“People fear that they are more exposed to virus infection in Church than they are in a mall,” the Ugandan-born Bishop told ACI Africa.

He added, “I have met many people who told me that they got sick when they went to a funeral. But I have never met anyone who says they got the infection when they went shopping. We don’t know why this is the case but I can say that the Church was stigmatized from the word go.”

In the first week of the SCC Notes for Reflection, Catholics in Aliwal Diocese are expected to reflect on the theme of “fear,” Bishop Kizito said, adding that it is fear that is keeping people away from Church after spending months away.

“Not everyone is coming to Church. I have spoken to many people who have made it clear that they are not coming to Church until COVID-19 is gone. They say they are only comfortable following the Church services on their televisions,” he says.

Reflections in the second week in the Diocese will be hinged on “job losses” and will invite people to explore different ways to deal with loss, the Bishop said.

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He further said that a majority of people in the country have sunk into deep poverty and suffering after they lost their jobs amid COVID-19 lockdown.

“People have lost their jobs, businesses are closed and their owners are seated at home. Many have sunk into depression,” the Bishop said, adding that scriptures in the week will be selected to give people hope including the Biblical account of Abraham who was told to leave everything behind to go to a place he did not know.

The third topic will be “death” and for a whole week, Catholics will be expected to pray for the souls of their friends and relatives who succumbed to COVID-19-related complications, including those who were not given a decent send-off owing to the lockdown regulations.

“We have set aside the third week of lent to specifically pray for the souls of people who we didn’t go to bury because the COVID-19 regulations couldn’t allow us. We have lost so many people and we continue to lose others in large numbers every day,” Bishop Kizito said.

“There is a Parish in my Diocese that has lost 15 people in a span of only two months. People have mourned and are still mourning. We are not able to give our loved ones decent send-offs,” he said.

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Reflections in the fourth week will be centered on “hope, the Bishop sharesd. In the fifth week, Catholics of Aliwal Diocese will be expected to reflect on “crime and stress”, which the Bishop said have skyrocketed during lockdown.

In Aliwal Diocese, Bishop Kizito says that many Parishes have been broken into and Church property stolen.

“Here in my Diocese, there are 55 Churches and at least half of them have been broken into,” the Bishop told ACI Africa, and added, “So many things have been stolen including computers, chalices, speakers, microphones and other important equipment. The crime rate has shot up during the COVID-19 lockdown.”

In Parishes, the bandits do not spare anything as Fathers’ houses and even Convents have been broken into, the Bishop said.

“Whenever a Priest calls, there are always high chances that they are calling to report an act of vandalism. There is nothing we can do anymore,” Bishop Kizito said resignedly, adding that the prayers in the fifth week of Lent will be dedicated to the conversion of criminals in the country.

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