, 20 March, 2020 / 4:15 AM
Catholic Bishops in Burkina Faso and Niger have, in a collective statement, announced the suspension of public Mass in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19 after the West African nation of Burkina Faso recorded the first death due to the pandemic.
Giving the directives as members of the Episcopal Conference of Burkina Faso and Niger (CEBN), the Prelates have also directed that Church functions and ceremonies such as family gatherings and funerals be a family affair in view of minimizing the chances of COVID-19 spreading in crowds of people.
“The celebration of funerals must henceforth scrupulously respect the instructions issued by the State to guarantee the health security of the population,” reads in part CEBN statement issued Wednesday, March 18.
The Bishops add that the funerals will be expected to “take place in a more restricted family setting, and priests will be able to ensure the absolution of the deceased.”
“These measures express our solidarity with all our brothers and sisters who are living this coronavirus crisis with us. We are called to respect them scrupulously while intensifying prayer, fasting and sharing so that God may take this scourge away from us,” the Bishops have stated.
“We have decided to suspend all public Masses (Sunday, precept and daily). In addition to Masses, catechetical classes and preparatory courses for the sacraments are also suspended,” the Bishops said in their collective statement.
The directives, according to the Bishops, take effect from March 19 until April 4 “and can be maintained for a further period of time.”
Signed by CEBN President, Bishop Laurent Dabiré, the faithful are advised to avoid unnecessary travels to countries with COVID-19, to avoid handshakes and hugs and to frequently wash their hands with soap and water or with alcohol-based sanitizer.
Addressing the press Wednesday, March 18 on the first reported death in Burkina Faso, the West African country’s national coordinator for response to the virus, Professor Martial Ouedraogo, said, “We recorded the death overnight of a female patient aged 62, who suffered from diabetes and was in intensive care.”
The deceased is said to be the vice president of the Burkina Faso National Assembly, Rose Marie Compaoré, according to reports.
With the addition of seven new cases in the country on Wednesday, March 18, the number of patients in Burkina Faso stands at 27, comprising 15 women and 12 men.
As of Wednesday, March 18, WHO confirmed 477 cases of COVID-19 in Africa with at least 31 countries affected.
Church leaders in other African countries have also stepped up measures to avoid the spread of the virus in their respective countries.
In Ivory Coast, following the putting in place of new measures by the government to limit the spread of the coronavirus, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Ivory Coast (CECCI) held a press conference at its headquarters in Abidjan Tuesday, March 17, to present a number of measures to be applied during Masses in the country.
During the press conference, CECCI through the voice of Bishop Gaspard Beby Gneba, invited Catholics to “comply with the rules set aside by the government for their safety.”
Thus, in this new message, the Catholic Bishops invite the faithful “to strictly respect the measure prohibiting gatherings of more than 50 people and greetings with physical contact, the respect of the distance of 01 meter between people” as required by the government.
According to the Bishops, public Masses “are maintained, provided that the parishes organize themselves in a responsible way by respecting the directives decreed by the government.”
Meanwhile, the Archdioceses and Dioceses of the Episcopal Conference of Angola and São Tomé (CEAST) have also established restrictions during Eucharistic celebrations due to COVID-19.
The Bishops have ordered that as long as the Covid-19 pandemic persists, “the celebration of Mass should take place without physical contact between Christians, i.e. during the sign of peace one should avoid giving hands or hugs, and that communion should preferably be received on the hand.”
The Bishops also emphasized that “the church will do everything in its power to ensure that preventive information reaches the most remote areas.”
So far, Angola has not registered any positive cases of COVID-19 and government authorities as well as civil society, churches, traditional authorities, the private sector and other institutions, are triggering initiatives for education, awareness and prevention in the communities.
In Liberia, the Bishops have also issued directives to the faithful on how to avoid the spread of the disease.
According to the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Liberia (CABICOL), Fr. Dennis Cephas Nimene, “Liberia being a post Ebola success story, is supposed to be adequately prepared in the wake of this COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Basic Ebola sanitary measures (washing of hands, check of temperature, etc) were put in place at schools, churches, airports, shops, etc,” Fr. Nimene told ACI Africa in an interview Tuesday, March 17.
“The official position of the Church was published Tuesday, March 17, calling on Christians to adhere to government ordinances and respect of basic hygiene rules,” Fr. Nimene said and added, “We have not reached the point of suspension of Masses. However, there will surely be some further measures, if need rises.”
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