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Parishes of Zambia’s Ndola Diocese with “high” COVID-19 Cases to Close, Bishop Directs

Bishop Benjamin Phiri of Zambia's Ndola Diocese during Ash Wednesday Mass on 17 February 2021

Parishes of Ndola Diocese that record “high” infections of COVID-19 among parishioners “shall close,” the Local Ordinary of the Zambian Diocese has directed.

In his Thursday, February 18 letter, Bishop Benjamin Phiri encourages the people of God under his pastoral care to go for voluntary COVID-19 tests. 

“Once the number of the lay faithful who have tested positive to Covid-19 in a particular parish is high, the parish shall close until it is deemed safe to reopen,” Bishop Phiri says.

The leadership of Parishes “shall arrange for fumigation of the premises,” the Bishop further directs in reference to a situation where parishioners test positive for COVID-19.

In case a Parish Priest tests positive for the coronavirus, the Local Ordinary of Ndola says, “that particular Priest shall be quarantined and isolated for treatment whilst the other Priests living with him will continue to celebrate Mass for the faithful if they are negative.”

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Having fumigated the church premises, the Parish can remain open for daily activities to take place, Bishop Phiri says.

On January 25, the Director of Pastoral Programs in the Diocese issued a letter indicating that the Diocesan Administration is considering the suspension of Liturgical celebrations in public following an increase in reported cases of the coronavirus and laxity in observing preventive measures. 

As of January 26, eight parishes in the Diocese had been closed after Priests and members of staff tested positive for COVID-19. 

In his February 18 letter, the Bishop of Ndola directs Clerics in the Diocese to “no longer celebrate Vigil Masses for the deceased in Church a day before the burial.”

“Memorial Masses shall be celebrated in Church for the deceased thirty (30) days after the burial,” the 61-year-old Zambian Bishop directs. 

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He says that his directive on Memorial Mass is informed by the reality that “the same people gathering at the funeral house of the deceased are the same people who come to attend the Vigil Mass and can be possible agents of spreading the Coronavirus to others.”

Members of the Clergy in the Diocese are allowed to conduct burial rites at the graveyard, the Bishop clarifies. 

He goes on to encourage voluntary testing for coronavirus saying that “there is no shame in advising other people correctly on the status of oneself regarding the COVID-19 disease.”

For those who test positive for the coronavirus, the Bishop advises them to “immediately abstain from taking part in any communal liturgical celebrations.”

The Zambian Bishop urges the people of God to “religiously follow” COVID-19 health precautions issued by the authorities and adds, “Let us remain a faith community that takes responsibility for each other’s well-being.”

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Zambia is among Southern African nations that have recorded an upsurge in what has been reported as the second wave of COVID-19. The others include South Africa, Swaziland, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. 

There are at least 72,467 reported cases of the coronavirus in Zambia and 65,051 recoveries. At least 991 people including Bishop Moses Hamungole of Monze Diocese have succumbed to COVID-19-related complications. 

On February 14, Christian leaders in the landlocked country held a virtual ecumenical prayer service to offer prayers “against the Coronavirus.”

During the ecumenical prayer service, the Secretary General of the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (ZCCB), Fr. Cleophas Lungu called on the people of God in the country to stand together in the fight against the pandemic.