, 17 March, 2020 / 4:35 AM
The West African nation of Ghana has become the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to temporarily suspend the public celebration of the Holy Eucharist, a decision taken by the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference (GCBC) amid half a dozen confirmed cases of COVID-19.
“All Public Masses be suspended for the next four weeks,” the Bishops in Ghana have announced in a collective statement dated Monday, March 16.
In the statement, the Bishops state, “Where possible, live streaming of Masses should be encouraged to enable the faithful receive spiritual Communion.”
The decision to suspend Public Mass followed the decree by the country’s President Nana Akufo-Addo in which he announced a raft of measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.
The West African nation announced the first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 Thursday, March 12 involving two Ghanaians who arrived back to the country, one from Norway and the other from Turkey.
Four new cases were reported in Ghana Sunday, March 15, bringing the tally of confirmed cases of the pandemic to six.
The measures President Akufo-Addo imposed in Ghana Sunday, March 15 are similar to what other Sub-Saharan countries such as Kenya, Senegal, Rwanda, and South Africa have put in place.
They include a ban on public gatherings, the closure of schools and institutions of higher learning, a travel ban for persons from countries with at least 200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among other preventive measures.
“For the next four weeks,” the Catholic Bishops in Ghana also suspended “all Public Spiritual programs such as retreats, devotions, meetings, confessions, pilgrimages” as well as weddings and funerals.
“All Catholic Schools be closed until further notice as directed,” reads the collective message addressed to “all Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, and the Lay Faithful” in the West African nation.
Signed by GCBC President, Archbishop Phillip Naameh, the Bishops in Ghana have allowed Christian burial ceremonies “but with not more than 25 people in attendance.”
The Bishops encourage the celebration of daily private Masses, “offered for God’s intervention with not more than five people in attendance.”
The Church leaders instruct that “Churches and Adoration chapels be opened for private prayers by parishioners.”
While in the churches and adoration chapels, the Bishops urge the Catholic faithful to “do well to observe the required distance of two meters and pray in silence.”
“We exhort all Catholics and people of faith to intensify individual and family prayers and encourage all to read the daily Mass readings and reflections provided on several social media platforms,” the Bishops in Ghana state in their March 16 collective message.
They also urge the inhabitants of the West African nation to observe “the basic precautionary measures that will help minimize the spread of the virus as well as protect oneself from being infected with Covid-19.”
“May our Lady, Mother of the Church and Health of the sick intercede for us and the whole world,” the Church leaders conclude.
Previously, the Bishops had directed Ministers and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion “to wash their hands or use sanitizer before and after distributing Holy Communion” while the faithful were asked to receive Holy Communion in the hand.
Following the March 16 collective letter, individual Bishops have encouraged the clergy, religious and lay faithful to comply with the directives given by GCBC and applied the instructions in their respective contexts.
For instance, in a letter seen by ACI Africa, Bishop Richard Kuuia Baawobr of Ghana’s Wa diocese has announced the postponement of the final profession and jubilee of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary and the Silver Jubilee of Episcopacy of the diocese’s Bishop Emeritus.
Meanwhile, Church leaders in in different countries of Africa have also taken measures to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.
In Morocco, where 17 cases and one death of the virus have been recorded, the Archbishop of Rabat, Cristobal Cardinal Lopez Romero called for the “dispensation from the Sunday precept for the duration of the epidemic,” La Croix News reported.
The Prelate maintained weekly Masses but restricted attendance to “50 people per gathering.”
“The sign of the peace of Christ and the communion on the tongue are suppressed as well as the use of holy water in the holy water fonts,” the Archbishop of Rabat directed.
In the Central African country of Cameroon, with two cases of the COVID-19 virus recorded, Archbishop Jean Mbarga of Yaoundé decreed that a distance be maintained between people in Church while Holy Communion be received on the hands.
Though Benin is yet to record a case of the deadly virus, the Bishops’ Conference in the country has already taking preventive measures, La Croix reported.
In a communique issued March 12, the Bishops’ Conference of Benin directed that the Body of Christ be received on the palm.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa