By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
On 31 July, Lahore’s Archbishop Sebastian Shaw announced churches would reopen in the diocese in mid-August. He cited important occurrences in August as the motive for his decision: Independence Day, 14 August and the Solemnity of the Assumption, 15 August.
The Archbishop also reiterated the need to follow safety measures, reminding Churchgoers that they would follow procedures in place to protect against the virus. In addition, he said that services would be kept short, numbers to a minimum, and consecutive Masses would be offered to accommodate the faithful.
Last week, many coronavirus measures ordered by the government were then lifted.
True to his word, the first Mass was celebrated in the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart on the Solemnity of the Assumption. The next day, a ceremony in which Archbishop Sebastian Shaw himself opened the doors of the Cathedral symbolized the reopening of every church door in Pakistan. Present for the ceremony were leaders of other faith traditions in Pakistan.
The Dean of the Anglican Church of Pakistan in Lahore, Pastor Shahid Meraj, prayed the opening prayer of thanksgiving.
Archbishop Shaw commended the faithful for having respected the government anti-Covid guidelines. He also requested that Christians continue to observe those guidelines for the purpose of saving lives. Although belonging to different religions, “we are all brothers”, Archbishop Shaw said. “We are indeed united even in the difficult time of Covid-19.”
Sadar Bishan Singh, Pakistan’s Sikh representative, expressed his gratitude to Archbishop Shaw for organizing the celebration. “People of all religions are glad to go back to their worship places and those who left the world because of the pandemic may rest in peace,” he said. He then prayed for love and unity between those following different religious traditions.
Those present were reminded by Asim Maqbool, a representative of the Muslim population, that everyone had been affected by the virus, regardless of religious persuasion or ethnicity. “We all had to put our trust in God,” he said.
Bishop Irfan Jamil of the Anglican Church observed that everyone had rallied together for the good of those who are poor.
A leader of the Shia community, Qasim Raza Naqwi had words of congratulations for everyone who played a role in saving the lives of the virus’s victims.
Quoting the Quran, Mufti Syed Ashiq Hussain said that respect is due to all religions and sacred places of worship.
Churches initially closed in Pakistan on 15 March before the official lockdown began. Some churches of various denominations later chose to open only for Sunday worship. Public Masses began to be celebrated in churches in the Archdiocese of Karachi, Sindh Province, and Islamabad-Rawalpindi Diocese in July.
Covid in Pakistan
Pakistan has registered almost 290,000 Coronavirus cases, just over 6,000 people have died from it and a few more than 270,000 have recovered. The number of new cases has been declining dramatically. On 16 August, only six deaths were reported.