By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
The Catholic Church in Ecuador has detailed a safety protocol for the gradual reopening of churches in the country. The plan will take place in two phases according to a system of reopening and authorization created by the Ecuadorian government.
In a document issued on Tuesday by the Ecuadorian Episcopal Conference, the bishops communicated the biosafety protocol. They also indicated that the measures are aimed at “safeguarding health as a common good” during the reopening process, which will lead to a “spiritual reunion” in the Church.
The two phases, scheduled to be implemented in May and June, do not provide for “the celebration of Masses, processions, or any grand acts of expression of faith.” Likewise, the protocol does not permit people older than sixty years, children younger than twelve, or people with preexisting health conditions to participate in the protocol measures at this time.
On 12 April, the Ecuadorian government created a traffic light system to measure the risk of contagion and spread of the Covid-19 virus. The colour red indicates areas with the highest risk; orange, areas under consideration for change; and green, areas with the least danger of infection.
The first phase concerns churches, parishes and regions indicated as red and yellow.
The protocol indicates that from the end of May, these churches will be open only for personal prayer and access will be limited to a maximum of twenty minutes at a time. The faithful can also come for the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the church or other sufficiently large places. People are encouraged to maintain a distance of one and a half metres from each other.
The second phase applies to churches indicated as yellow or green. This will be implemented in June.
Churches in this category will respect the same provisions in phase one. However, there is the possibility of reception of Holy Communion without Mass for those who request it, following the precautionary protocols established by health authorities.
Covid-19 in Ecuador
Ecuador is the fourth most affected country in Latin America. The latest reports put the number of confirmed cases at 31,881, with 1,569 deaths and 3,433 recovered patients.