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India

Communion confusion as Masses resume in Indian state

India's commercial capital Mumbai has been a Covid-19 hotspot

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Communion confusion as Masses resume in Indian state

A Christian prays at a church in Mumbai on Nov. 16 after places of worship in Maharashtra state reopened following more than seven months of shutdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP)

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Confusion persists over the distribution of Communion inside churches in India's Maharashtra state as the government has prohibited distributing food inside religious places as part of steps to check the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The western state allowed religious places to resume prayer services such as Mass from Nov. 16, seven months after banning gatherings as part of a Covid-19 lockdown that began on March 25.

However, as the federal "government has forbidden the distribution of sacred food in places of worship," only the celebrant priest will receive Communion at Mass, said a circular issued by Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the archbishop of Bombay, on Nov. 19.

The circular, applicable only to the archdiocese based in state capital Mumbai (formerly Bombay), said respective parish priests could decide how to distribute Communion to faithful.

The situation in each parish is different and general instructions are not possible, said the cardinal.

The federal government's ban on distributing edible offerings at worship places stands but has allowed states to relax norms considering the situation after it began the unlocking process in June.

Catholic churches in states like Kerala and Madhya Pradesh now distribute Communion on hands. However, only a limited number of people can attend the services and must follow protocols including thermal scanning and wearing masks.

Mumbai, India's commercial capital city with some 20 million people, used to be a Covid-19 hotspot, and cases began to dwindle only in the past fortnight.

"It is true that we are not allowed to distribute Communion in churches. We will have to figure out how it can be distributed when people attend the Mass," said Father Nigel Barrett, the spokesperson of Cardinal Gracias.

Priests might consider distributing Communion after the Mass or by using some other method so that the faithful are not deprived of Communion, Father Barrett told UCA News on Nov. 20.

He said distributing Communion as part of Mass "will be a clear violation of the government norms, and we don't want to do that."

Although Maharashtra allowed the reopening of worship places, Bombay Archdiocese did not rush to resume public Masses.

Cardinal Gracias has advised caution until standard operating procedures are "properly put in place to avoid any chance of spreading coronavirus infection to people," Father Barrett said.

He said churches are being kept open only six hours a day — three in the morning and three in the evening — until Nov. 28. 

"We will resume the public celebration of Eucharist with restrictions at the beginning of the Eucharistic Year: The First Sunday of Advent, Nov. 29," the circular said.

The cardinal also advised parishes to restrict the number of people to one third of their capacity or less. He also asked them to sanitize churches after each service.

People are also advised against bringing flowers into churches and touching statues, among other practices, to ensure that no one is infected.

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