By Robin Gomes
Timor-Leste, or East Timor, has officially reopened churches for daily and weekly Eucharistic celebrations for the faithful, after the country’s Covid-19 task force reported no new coronavirus cases in the past two weeks.
The decision by the bishops of the predominantly Catholic country was announced on May 28, two months after churches were ordered closed following the discovery of the country’s first Covid-19 case on March 21.
Health protocols during Mass
"Churches are open only for Masses," the bishops said in a statement signed by Archbishop Virgílio do Carmo da Silva of Dili, Bishop Norberto do Amaral of Maliana and Bishop Basilio do Nascimento of Baucau.
People who want to attend daily or Sunday Masses have been urged to continue observing the existing health protocols.
"People must wear masks during celebrations," the bishops said. "Parish priests and parish councils must ensure the faithful wash their hands and keep their distance inside churches.”
So far, Timor-Leste has recorded only 24 positive cases and no deaths. The state of emergency in the tiny-East Asian nation was to expire on Thursday, May 28. Despite the fact that there have been no new cases in the last two weeks, the government has extended the emergency to June 26.
"The government felt the need to extend the state of emergency given the global pandemic is not over," Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak said on May 27.
He said there would be an easing of restrictions, with businesses being allowed to reopen and churches and schools resuming activities.
Tight border controls
He also said the country’s emergency response was meant to anticipate the growing number of Covid-19 cases in neighbouring Indonesia, whose West Timor province shares the border with Timor-Leste.
According to President Francisco Guterres Lú-Olo, the decision to extend the state of emergency was agreed upon by MPs. This would involve, among other things, tightening controls at the country’s land, sea, and air borders.
“People must also give their full cooperation throughout the emergency period,” Lú-Olo said. "Citizens must remain disciplined in following health protocols, such as wearing masks and avoiding crowds and maintaining a physical distance."
Father Emanuel Lelo Talok, the parish priest at St. Joseph Church in Dili who celebrated the first Mass on May 28, said he was very happy to see his parishioners again. While thanking God for His blessings during the pandemic so far, he hoped it would soon end. (Source: UCANEWS)