23 April 2020, The Tablet

News Briefing: Church in the World

News Briefing: Church in the World

Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (L) visits the construction site of the Resurrection of Christ Cathedral, the main Russian Orthodox cathedral serving the Russian Armed Forces, in Moscow.
Vadim Savitsky/Tass/PA Images

The annual “One Boston Day” celebration, remembering the victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, went virtual this year with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh convoking a virtual interfaith prayer service that included Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Shaykh Yasir Fahmy, and Revd. Liz Walker, a Presbyterian minister and former news anchor. In opening the virtual service, Mayor Walsh recalled going to a friend’s funeral last year, and before the funeral Mass, he looked at a statue of St. Gregory, and thought to himself, “whenever I need the church, the church is there for me, and whenever the church needs me, we are not always there for it. Right now we need the church ….When this is over, we have to be there for the church.” He talked about the role of religion in comforting the community during times of crisis from its early seventeenth-century beginnings, to helping him in his own struggle to overcome alcoholism. 

Kenyan Catholic dioceses and individual church groups are launching initiatives to help communities being left vulnerable by the Covid-19 pandemic. On 16 April, the archdiocese of Nyeri and Kitui diocese partnered to launch a call centre to support people in distress due to the virus. The initiative- Hope4u which targeting to raise US$1.2 million will provide people with food and other necessities. Mombasa archdiocese has also moved to collect emergency food and funds. In Nairobi’s Kibera slums, a group of sisters is also handing out food vouchers to needy families. Cases in Kenya have risen to 270 with 14 deaths. The government has been implementing dawn to dusk curfew and has restricted movement in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale. Meanwhile a Catholic priest Fr Richard Onyango Oduor has been charged with spreading the coronavirus. He appeared in court in Nairobi last week, accused of having “negligently spread an infectious disease” after he reportedly failed to observe quarantine orders after returning from a trip to Italy. The priest has denied the charges and was released on bail.

Catholic priests are going door to door in Abidjan to distribute face masks, Fr Emmanuel Wohi Nin, Secretary General of the Ivory Coast Catholic Bishops’ Conference, reported. “We bring the prayer we say every day for the whole humanity that is suffering” he says, “but in addition we have decided to offer free face masks to the poorest and most vulnerable populations". At least 500 face masks have already been given out.

The President of Tanzaniordered a three-day national prayer last weekend to pray for success in tackling the coronavirus. “Tanzanian compatriots, because of the pandemic, I urge you to use these three days, 17-19 April, to pray to God for His protection and healing,” tweeted President John Pombe Magufuli, who is a Catholic. Tanzania has not imposed any restrictions on movements or closed its borders, but has suspended social gatherings and ordered the closure of educational institutions. However, crowds have been attending public Masses, allowed by the government, with some restrictions in place to protect congregations. 

Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos called last week on the government of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to do more for those suddenly unemployed because of the coronavirus   lockdown. “We strongly demand that the Department of Labour and Employment immediately release financial assistance to all affected workers … they  and their families are left without income to buy food and other basic necessities,” he said. Despite the risk of being shot, many of the poor still go out looking for food or work. 

Pakistan’s Catholics have been instructed to reach out to at least two vulnerable families in their neighbourhoods suffering during lockdown. Fr Ryan Joseph, Rector of the Saint Pius X Seminary in Karachi says, “we told the faithful: look for the poor and needy, of any religion, in your neighbourhoods and help them; buy food for poor families”. Fr Arthur Charles, of the church of Sant'Antonio in the archdiocese reports that “our pastoral team is working to provide food packages containing 5 kg of rice, 5 kg of wheat flour, 3 kg of sugar, 3 kg of different types of lentils, and oil to 900 families in the parish who live below the poverty line” .In Lahore Archdiocese, Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shaw has donated 15,000 face masks to the city's health workers and others. 

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, head of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union(COMECE), has said the coronavirus pandemic could deliver a mortal wound to a European Union already paralysed by the refugee crisis and growing individualism of its member states. “The largest solidarity network we can imagine is the European Union,” the archbishop of Luxembourg wrote in the Italian Jesuit magazine Civiltá Cattolica. But EU members had closed their frontiers and put their own countries first in fighting the virus. “Lack of solidarity during the coronavirus crisis can become the fatal wound,” argued Hollerich. “I fear that for many this will mean a disenchantment with the European project.” 

The leader of a prominent Muslim group has been charged with manslaughter after a huge meeting it held in New Delhi in March was blamed for spawning coronavirus clusters.Police say Muhammad Saad Khandalvi ignored two notices to end the event at a mosque in the capital. Mr Saad and his Tablighi Jamaat group deny wrongdoing, saying many attendees were stranded by the country’s lockdown. 

The coronavirus pandemic has prompted interest in St Corona in Egypt, with the Coptic Studies Centre of the Library of Alexandria announcing online lessons on the saint. Professor Ezzat Salib, expert on Coptic heritage at the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, made the first broadcast on 17 April on the Facebook page of the library. 

Coptic Christian communities celebrated Easter Sunday without being able to access churches, due to coronavirus security measures.

Zambia’s Catholic bishops have set up a COVID-19 Response Fund. Money will be used to prevent the spread of the disease and support health facilities responding to the pandemic. Bishop Moses Hamungole of Monze said the fund will support Church projects for the sick, elderly, people with mental and physical disabilities, orphans and poor people. 

Catholic organisations in Malta have backed a statement by their country's archbishop, condemning the closure of its ports to boat migrants from North Africa as a protection against Covid-19. “That we as a nation have even considered leaving, let alone left, distressed migrants adrift without aid and at risk of drowning at sea shakes us,” said the 35 organisations, including the Malta Catholic Youth Network, Charismatic Renewal and the Legion of Mary. “These are not the values guiding our nation, which made us who we are. As Christians we need to be reminded that Jesus is on those boats.”

Catholic organisations in Europe have condemned the granting of far-reaching powers to Hungary's premier Viktor Orban, enabling him to rule by decree without parliamentary scrutiny during the coronavirus crisis. The 11 Catholic groups, including Justice and Peace Europe, the European Parishes Colloquium, Pax Romana and Pax Christi International, said: “This pandemic will not be overcome if democracy is humiliated or fundamental rights trampled on.”



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