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Church curbs programs in worst virus-hit Indian states

Most dioceses in Kerala and Maharashtra have imposed restrictions on church programs to avoid mass gatherings

Priscilla Pinto

Priscilla Pinto

Updated: March 20, 2020 08:54 AM GMT
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Church curbs programs in worst virus-hit Indian states

A gardener works below a big board displaying precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at a roadside in Mumbai on March 19. (Photo: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP)

Catholic dioceses in India’s most coronavirus-affected states have imposed curbs on liturgical services after the state governments imposed measures for social distancing to check further spread of Covid-19.

Bombay Archdiocese, based in Maharashtra state's capital Mumbai, India’s business hub, has suspended Sunday Masses until April 4, the eve of Palm Sunday.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay, in a video message on March 19 said he has decided to cancel all public Masses in the archdiocese from March 20 to April 4.

One of the four Covid-19 deaths reported in India came under the jurisdiction of Bombay Archdiocese.

Maharashtra has reported 48 cases, the highest figure among India’s 29 states. India had reported 173 cases as of March 20.

Bombay Archdiocese’s neighboring Poona Diocese has also canceled all Masses and worship services, including Way of Cross, until the threat of coronavirus recedes, Bishop Thomas Dabre of Poona told UCA News.

The diocese comprises 39 parishes with over 80,000 faithful spread across the western state of Maharashtra.

To contain the outbreak, the Maharashtra government has decided to keep government offices functional but reduced attendance to 50 percent. It chose to operate the railway, private buses and public transport system at 50 percent passenger capacity.

In the national capital, Delhi Archdiocese has also canceled Masses until March 31.

Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi tweeted on March 18 that he was suspending Masses following the “instructions of our government” to avoid mass gatherings.

In Poona, the government has imposed prohibitory orders against the assembly of four or more people in an area. Violators can be arrested and charged.

“We hope and pray the spread of this deadly virus recedes by April 5 for Palm Sunday and the Holy Week services,” Father Malcom Sequeira, vicar general of Poona Diocese, told UCA News.

Several other dioceses in affected areas have suspended liturgical programs, but bishops have not issued a blanket ban on Masses across India.

Even in Kerala state, where the virus was first reported in India in late January, the bishops’ council has not issued any common restrictions but left it to individual bishops to act according to the situation.

Kerala has reported 27 positive coronavirus cases. Of these, three people have recovered.

Archbishop Antony Kariyil of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese has asked all parishes to avoid festivals, retreats, religious classes and get-togethers as a precautionary step until March 31.

Catholics are also asked not to kiss or touch any relics, including religious images, at church. They are also to avoid large gatherings during funerals.

Catholicos Baselios Marthoma Paulose II, head of the Kerala-based Indian Orthodox Church, has canceled Sunday classes and prayer meetings except for Masses.

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