The alpha-numeric coded word, Covid-19, has been a source of concern striking fear in the hearts of many, and has felt its presence in the remotest corners of the world as a disease that seems to defy all odds to find a way to curb its spread. It has been the trending news since the year began, a disease that has shut down nations and organizations. Nevertheless, joining St Paul, we can say that “all things work together for the good of all who love God” (Romans 8:28). This disease has in no way quenched the faith of God’s people, instead, it has given a redefining understanding of how our faith can be flamed and lit during troubling times.
On this, the Church in Nigeria responded in various ways, not out of fear, but for the concern of the common good. It can be recalled that Wednesday, the 25th of March 2020 was greeted with the suspension of the public celebrations of the Holy Mass and otherSacraments in the Diocese of Uromi, owing to the global health crisis on ground. For the spiritual wellbeing of the Faithful, as well as the physical wellbeing, celebrations were put on hold for the time being pending when things would fizzle out.Priests were to continue to celebrate the Holy Mass for the people (in absentia).The Faithful took all in good faith believing in the God who is aware of all situations either good or bad. This suspension was geared towards one purpose, to give time to assess the situation and strategize a peculiar and suitable pastoral approach to adapt, an approach suitable to the times we are currently in.The Church, as an agent of good governance obeys government stipulated laws.
In the absence of these public gatherings, the Faithful were charged all the more to commit their faith to the trying times in which the church has found Herself. The Domestic Church has never been more emphasized, energized and demanded of in the past like now.Active participation in virtual Masses were encouraged, as well as the right of each faithful to the extraordinary reception of the Eucharist following the laid down precepts of the General Instruction,On the Reception of the Holy Eucharistic outside the Mass (Cf. Congregation of Rites, Eucharisticum Mysterium: On Worship of the Eucharist [EM] (May 25, 1967), part II, no. 40 and Part III, no. 49). In sum, the facts were stated clearly that if the faithful could not congregate, and with the ordinary powers of the Bishop, the Faithful were dispensed from the obligatoryattendance of Masses on holy days of obligation.
After prayerful considerations, and strategizing with deep concern for the spiritual and physical wellbeing of the people of God, his Lordship, Most. Rev. Dr. Donatus Ogun, OSA., graciously called for the resumption of public celebrations of the Holy Mass and other Sacraments with serious emphasis on the need for strict adherence to the appropriate health sanitation protocols laid down by the state government and the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). Towards this end, his Lordship, in his Pastoral Letter to All Priests, Consecrated Persons and Laity of the Catholic Diocese of Uromi dated 12th May 2020 directed that priests “strictly enforce precautions to curb the continued spread of the COVID-19 Virus. This means the provision of places for persons to wash their hands, hand sanitizers, insistence on the wearing of face masks, and dedicated enforcement of physical distancing.” To cater for the pastoral needs of worshippers amidst the regulation of the government on the number of persons to be in a gathering, the Bishop encouraged priests to celebrate more Masses: “We encourage Pastors and Rectors of Churches to explore the possibility of concurrent Holy Masses in different spaces in the Church compound.”
Thanks to the pastoral solicitude of the Bishop and the pastoral commitment of priests, prior to the latest regulation of Edo State Government which has lifted the previous restriction on the number of persons in any gathering to a maximum of 20, Parishes and Mass Centres across the Diocese made provision for multiple Masses. Fore instance, St. Anthony Cathedral Uromi, had four concurrent Masses and a total number of 30 Masses on Sundays (Beginning with 2 Masses on Saturday Evening). Mary the Queen, Ekpoma, St. Gregory the Great, Ekpoma, and Annunciation Catholic Church Irrua all had 2 concurrent Masses and a total number of 14, 13, and 6 Masses respectively on Sundays. St. Benedict, Ubiaja had 3 concurrent Masses and a total number of 18 Masses on Sundays.
While maintaining the stipulated physical distancing of two metres, with effect from Sunday, 7th June 2020 the new regulation of Edo State Government makes it possible for Churches to have either a maximum of 20 worshipers for churches with a normal seating capacity of 50 to 100, 50 worshipers for those with a normal seating capacity of above 100 to less than 200 seating capacity, , 100 worshipers for churches with 300 but less than 600 seating capacity, or 200 worshipers for Churches with capacity of 800 seating capacity and above