he Southern African Catholic Bishops conference welcomes the statement of President Ramaphosa that religious services may resume under level three lockdown from June 1st. We appreciate that religious leaders will be recognised as essential workers for the purpose of spiritual counselling and leading worship.
The importance of opening the churches will assist our people many of whom have experienced emotional and spiritual distress during the lockdown. People have felt abandoned by the church community in their moment of grave need. The stress of feeling isolated leaves the individual with a weakened immunity. A sense of deep depression due to spiritual longing is also a suffering and a disease.
While we welcome the Presidents sensitivity to the needs of our people we do so with a deep sense of caution. This virus has now afflicted 24000 people, around 261 in eSwatini and 35 in Botswana. As a Church we totally support the efforts made by the government and by all the brave medical and scientific personnel. Failure to follow the health regulations will cause rapid infection.
Committed to the physical and spiritual wellbeing of our people we fully respect the precautions outlined by the National Coronavirus Command Council and released by the President. We fully endorse the precautionary measures to avoid infections. Services must be limited to 50 people and lesser number if the church is small to comply with the required distance, all must wear face masks, respect social distance, observe hygiene protocols through taking temperatures, sanitising the area of worship before and after services. Our Churches must avoid every risk which might expose worshippers to infection. We call on all members who suffer persisted cough, who have colds or flues not to attempt to come to church.
Should individual communities represented by their priests and parish councils feel unable to meet these precautions they must keep the churches closed. To self-isolate in order to preserve the health of our neighbours is an act of love and mercy. Elderly and sickly people must refrain from coming to Church since from world wide experience they are the most vulnerable to infection.
The Churches now take on the heavy challenge of observing the health regulations. Local church leaders and parish councils must see how to limit attendance, to test temperatures, to sanitise the area before and after services. We would like a register of attendants at services to be instituted. Certain activities will have to wait such as singing, the sign of peace and all touch rituals. Our people have a great hunger for the Eucharist and priests must sanitize their hands, use gloves and give communion under the species of bread only.
We fully support the call for a National Day of Prayer on May 31 for the effective control of the disease, for those in the frontline against the fight of the disease, for those infected and affected by the disease, for success in finding the vaccine against the disease and for solidarity and mutual care during this difficult period of Covid-19. May the God of life save us.
Archbishop W. Slattery OFM
27th May 2020