The mostly expatriate Catholic community in Dubai and other southern Arabian cities is expected to have a low-key Lent and Holy Week as the Covid-19 virus continues to spread in the region.The Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia has effected from March 6 a set of restrictions on church programs in all its 16 parishes.
The vicariate is based in Abu Dhabi city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a seven-member federation of Arab states. The UAE has 45 confirmed coronavirus cases, according to the Ministry of Health and Prevention.
Besides the UAE, the vicariate covers Oman and Yemen. It caters to some 100,000 Catholics, mostly expatriates in cities like Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Salalah.
The virus outbreak has prompted the UAE government to cancel or postpone a host of events, from music festivals and business meetings to Art Dubai, the region’s high-profile art fair.
“It is good to follow the example of the civil authorities in taking certain precautions to limit the risks,” said a circular signed by Capuchin Bishop Paul Hinder, the apostolic vicar.
"The precautions are necessary because of our unique situation as a migrant Church, with faithful moving in and out of the country for personal and professional reasons.”
However, the measures do not include suspension of any liturgical activities.“For the time being, Masses and other group activities are to be carried out as usual, observing due prudence and necessary precautions,” the bishop said.
Organized group visits to different churches of the vicariate are common during Lent and Holy Week. But such group visits are “discouraged for the moment and other ways of meeting the devotion of the people will be offered by those with pastoral responsibly,” the bishop said.
Bishop Hinder said that as a precaution Catholics should receive Holy Communion in hand. "The faithful should be instructed on the proper way to receive. It is recommended that ministers use hand sanitizers to clean their hands before distributing Holy Communion," the statement said.Catechism classes will be suspended according to government guidelines, the bishop said.
He asked people not to offer the sign of the peace by touching hands but to use a bow of the head, which is common at most Masses.
He also asked Catholics to seek approval from the bishop's house to organize big gatherings and pilgrimages.
The measures are valid from March 6 to April 2, the prelate said, promising to re-evaluate them before Palm Sunday, which marks the Holy Week that leads to the feast of Easter.Bishop Hinder said the UAE government “is taking timely and effective precautions to minimize the risk of the virus. There is no need for us to be unduly alarmed or panic."
Oman, where the vicariate has four parishes, has registered 16 Covid-19 cases. Fifteen of them are related to travel to Iran and one to Italy.
War-torn Yemen, where the vicariate has four parishes, has not reported any cases of the virus that has hit West Asian nations including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain.
Iran is the worst-affected country in the Middle East with 6,566 cases and 194 deaths, according to figures on March 9. Iraq has had 60 cases and six deaths.