, 19 March, 2020 / 4:17 AM
Following a presidential directive to suspend all public religious activities in Ghana for four weeks in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19, a religious leader in the west African country has called for the setting of a new date for Easter celebration, expressing concerns that the suspension extends beyond the current date Easter Sunday, April 12.
In an interview with the press in Ghana, the Executive Director of the Alliance for Christian Advocacy for Africa, Rev. Dr. Kwabena Opuni Frimpong suggested that it is “a matter of utmost urgency that Christian leaders come together to set a new date for the period which is observed across the globe.”
“I am calling on all heads of churches including Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Christian Council, Ghana Pentecostal, Charismatic groups, to meet and fix Ghana’s date for the celebration of Easter,” said Rev. Opuni Frimpong.
The religious leader expressed concern over a situation where Christians in Ghana may miss the important liturgical celebration.
“Easter celebrations in Ghana must respond to the instruction of the president. It should be that the president has given instruction and because it falls on (12th) April, there will be no Easter celebrations in Ghana,” he said.
The former General Secretary of the Ghana Christian Council (GCC) stressed that leaders of all the churches need to come together to decide on the date which will be different from what will be observed across the world due to the country’s peculiar situation.
Responding to when the date was to be fixed, Rev. Opuni Frimpong said, “Heads of churches must come out with a new date, it can be in May or June and must not necessarily coincide with Rome or Archbishop of Canterbury’s date. We must fix our own Easter date and celebrate it as such.”
As part of stringent measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic, President Akufo-Addo, in a national address on March 15, among other things, charged that public gatherings be suspended.
With regards to religious activities and gatherings, Ghana’s President Akufo-Addo stated that a four-week suspension be observed to ascertain the level of threat the coronavirus poses as the country deploys contact tracing on those already infected.
“All public gatherings, including conferences, workshops, funerals, festivals, political rallies, sporting events and religious activities, such as services in churches and mosques, have been suspended for the next four (4) weeks. Private burials are permitted, but with limited numbers, not exceeding twenty-five (25) in attendance,” the President said when he addressed the nation March 15.
Religious leaders in Ghana have, in turn, encouraged their followers to follow Church proceedings through online platforms such as Facebook live streaming, YouTube as well as digital television.
The Catholic Church in Ghana was the first Church in sub-Saharan Africa to suspend Public Masses, telling its over 3 million followers on March 16 that “where possible, live streaming of Masses should be encouraged to enable the faithful receive spiritual Communion.”
“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 Catholic Bishops noted.
A message made available to ACI Africa indicates that over 2,900 Catholics joined a live streamed online Mass on Tuesday, March 17, at 6:00 a.m. (GMT) celebrated by Fr. Anthony Agnes Adu Mensah, the Secretary of the Archbishop of Accra.
The notice stated “remember to join us tomorrow at 6:00 a.m. for our daily live streaming of the Holy Mass.”
Some Catholics in Ghana are also tuning into daily Mass and other Catholic faith-based programmes on EWTN, the world’s largest Catholic television.
Other religious bodies in Ghana including the office of the National Chief Imam, Apostolic Church, the International Central Gospel Church (ICGC), Assemblies of God and Action Chapel have welcomed the decision by President Akufo-Addo to ban all public gatherings including church services with some announcing that “beginning from Tuesday, March 17 the church will conduct its worship as a congregation through its online platforms.”
“I urge all pastors to activate their live streaming platforms in order to minister to their congregation,” Pastor Mensa Otabil, the General Overseer of the ICGC church, said on Monday, March 16, 2020.
In the face of the pandemic, the National Chief Imam Sheikh Usman Nuhu Sharubutu has also suspended public Islamic religious activities to complement the government's measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the country.
“Henceforth, the Leader of the Muslim daily Salat known as the Muezzin will announce call to prayer to commence individual prayers at various homes,” said the Chief Imam, noting that “the restriction of public gatherings is in accordance with protocols enshrined in the Quran to preserve and ensure healthy lives.”
Action Chapel International (ACI) has also announced that all its services will be held online from the ACI Prayer Cathedral in Accra.
“No In-person service will be held for the next four weeks,” reads the ACI announcement in part.
Meanwhile, the Ghana Charismatic Bishops’ Conference has criticized the government for not consulting with religious leaders in the country before the closure of churches as part of the measures to forestall the spread of the coronavirus.
The statement released by the Charismatic Bishops reads in part, “The notices from the Government do not mention the closure of night clubs, restaurants, and shopping malls, busy offices, banks, drinking spots, chop bars, lorry stations and markets. Such entities have been noted in other country’s experience, France being a good example, where the pandemic has not been controlled as such enterprises have remained opened.”
The Bishops noted that to only ask for the closure of churches and places of worship “is a biased view of the society and does not increase the chances of getting the disease under control.”
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