By Robin Gomes
Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay is encouraging his Catholics to adhere to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to a nationwide self-curfew on Sunday.
“It is evident that the deadly coronavirus is still spreading, posing an extremely serious danger to all,” Cardinal Gracias noted in a video message posted on Friday on the archdiocesan website.
In an address to the nation on Thursday, Modi appealed to fellow citizens to observe a self-curfew from 7 am to 9 pm on March 22, as part of a trial-run to test social isolation to battle the coronavirus pandemic in the nation with a population of around 1.3 billion.
India’s health ministry confirmed on Friday that the number of infections in the country crossed the 200 mark to 206. Four deaths have been reported so far. Several state governments have imposed stringent measures to check the spread of the disease.
The Archdiocese of Bombay, in the western state of Maharashtra, includes Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India’s financial, commercial and entertainment capital, as well as the country’s largest city with a population of more than 12 million.
Suspension of public Masses
“Heeding our Prime Minister’s call and in the interest of the safety of our people, which need is paramount,” Cardinal Gracias said, “I have decided to cancel all public Mass in the Archdiocese of Bombay with effect from midnight tonight, Friday, March 20, 2020 until April 4, 2020, the eve of Palm Sunday (inclusive)”.
The cardinal who is also the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), suggested the faithful could avail themselves of the Masses telecast by TV channels such as EWTN, Goodness TV and Shalom but there is no obligation.
However, the Cardinal himself will celebrate a Mass on Sunday, which will be streamed live on the archdiocesan YouTube channel at 9 am, for the diocesan community.
He said he would also attempt to organize live-streamed Masses regularly during the period of suspension.
Noting that “this is a trying and tense period for all of us,” the cardinal said, “We need to turn to God.” Churches in the archdiocese, he said, would remain open for at least for a few hours every day to allow private prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
Reaching out amid social distancing
The Archbishop of Bombay urged his faithful to “stay at home and avoid socializing”.
“At home, bond more with others. Keep your eyes open to notice those who may need your assistance because they have no one to care for them. Use the telephone and email to keep in touch with those neglected and forgotten.”
The cardinal commended the government’s efforts to contain the disease, urging Catholics to cooperate.
Tribute to caregivers
In response to the prime minister’s suggestion, Cardinal Gracias has asked all church bells in the archdiocese to ring on Sunday at 5 pm, in appreciation for caregivers.
He urged for prayers so that the country returns to normalcy.
The cardinal had released a video message to his faithful earlier on March 18 and issued a circular to the Catholic Church in the country on March 10 on the coronavirus pandemic.
NE Indian dioceses take action
Other dioceses in India have also adopted preventive measures against the virus.
The North East India Regional Bishops’ Council (NEIRBC) have issued a set of guidelines dispensing Catholics from attending Sunday Mass. The faithful have been asked to avoid gatherings, the sign of peace at Mass, kissing the crucifix or using a single towel to wash the feet on Holy Thursday. Holy water fonts in churches must be emptied and Holy Communion should be given in the hand.
However, churches will remain open for individuals to pray.
The NEIRBC, which includes 15 dioceses, took the decision after a recent two-day meeting at the pastoral centre in Dibrugarh, Assam.
NEIRBC president, Archbishop John Moolachira of Guwahati, has urged the faithful of NE India “to follow the guidelines and instructions of their respective States" and to take necessary precautions to “avoid panic, as fear is more dangerous than the virus itself.”
In some parishes, the local pastors are issuing guidelines for Easter Triduum celebrations. On Holy Thursday, priests will use disposable wipes, not the same towel to wash the feet. On Good Friday the faithful must avoid kissing the cross.
The NEIRBC also asked priests to avoid physical contact when at a sick person's bedside or when they receive offerings.
To date, 245,132 coronavirus infections have been confirmed worldwide, with 10,022 reported deaths. Currently, Italy has the heaviest caseload with 41,035 cases and 3,405 deaths.