Church leaders and faithful are rejoicing at the Indian government’s plan to open religious places across the country from June 8 but say the guidelines for the distribution of Prasad (Holy Communion) should be clearer. The federal government on June 4 released guidelines to manage the spread of coronavirus in religious places, the hospitality sector, restaurants and offices that are set to reopen. “Indeed, it is a matter of joy because many faithful as well as churches had requested the central and state government to open religious places, and now finally churches will open from Monday but with strict guidelines,” Father Anthoniraj Thumma, executive secretary of the Federation of Telugu Churches, told UCA News. “The government guideline says that there should not be distribution of Prasad, but it also says that foods could be distributed keeping social distancing, so we have to find out how we can distribute Holy Communion. “Very soon there will also be guidelines from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, so we have to wait for that. In my opinion we could think of distributing Holy Communion by placing it near the altar from where faithful can take it or the priest can go around and distribute it.”
Father Thumma, also the regional director of the Commission for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue of Hyderabad Archdiocese, said Prasad has special reverence in Hindu and Christian traditions. “Without it, worship is considered incomplete, be it in churches or places like the famous Tirupati temple in Andhra Pradesh where the highest numbers of faithful assemble every day,” he said. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare guidelines issued on June 4 for opening places of worship say that the distribution of Prasad or sprinkling of holy water will not be allowed. Individuals will be asked to wash their hands and feet before entering worship places and they are not allowed to touch idols and holy books. If possible, recorded devotional music or songs may be played but choir or singing groups should not be allowed. Faithful will have to carry their own prayer mats and no common mats will be used. Footwear will be removed and kept inside vehicles, the guidelines said. Places of worship in containment zones will remain closed. It also said that persons above the age of 65, children under 10, persons with comorbidities and pregnant women are advised to stay at home except for essential and health purposes. Father Savarimuthu Sankar, spokesperson of the Archdiocese of Delhi, told UCA News that “the Catholic Church believes in community prayer and worship but in the new guidelines it is not specified if we can pray together and worship, so we have to still wait from guidelines from respective states.” He added: “Of course, without the Holy Eucharist, our prayer and worship are incomplete, but at the same time we have to follow the guidelines from the government to fight the pandemic.”
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