Every year on the eve of Christmas, Astrid Lobo, a scientist, would have an early dinner, pick out her best dress, and make sure she reaches the Holy Name Cathedral in Colaba on time. This year, however, she was in her Mahalaxmi home with her husband, two children and house help attending a prayer service online. Lobo, who has been part of the church choir, said there is much to miss this Christmas.
“I would have been in the choir singing for midnight mass if we did not have restrictions. I have been doing that for ten years,” said Lobo.
While special masses for Christmas were planned by churches in Mumbai hours before midnight and most attended the masses online, the “community dimension” was missing, Lobo said.
She will also have to give an elaborate Christmas lunch with her extended family a miss this year as celebrations take place in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions issued by the state government citing health and safety concerns.
On Wednesday, Oswald Cardinal Gracias, in his message to the priests of the Archdiocese of Bombay said that the state Home department had issued guidelines for Christmas “which could disturb the plans of very many”. He told them that as directed by the government, the number of people attending the Christmas mass in the Church will have to be limited to 50 and the government has encouraged many to attend the services online. He also said that services could be staggered or held simultaneously at different venues of the Church. “I regret this will cause inconvenience to you,” he said adding that the instructions for prayer services in the churches will be the same on New Year’s Eve as well.
“Fathers, we are in difficult or challenging times but trust in the lord. These measures seem to be necessary for the protection of our people. My prayer is that the Christ child bring his peace, his love, his joy and good health to all the world,” Cardinal Gracias said in his message.
Spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Bombay Father Nigel Barrett said, “We understand the need for restrictions but water parks have been opened. Does social distancing not apply to water parks? The restrictions of 50 people don’t apply to water parks? There is no social distancing in buses, in marketplaces. Are the rules only for places of worship? We’ve been following all the SOPs laid down by the government but the community is upset about this. There is disappointment in the Christian community because it took us by surprise. Not for any other reason but if they had given us enough time we could have worked around it. We were informed on December 23. We did not even have the time to put things in place.”
Father Barrett said that the Cardinal’s service was streamed online on YouTube and cable TV across the city on Thursday evening at 8 pm. On December 18, the Archdiocese of Bombay had directed 132 churches under it to hold their Christmas services earlier in the evening on December 24.
“Midnight mass was about neighbours knocking at your door at 11 pm and all of us going to church together. If it’s not at midnight, it loses its charm. I might as well attend the morning mass on Christmas instead of attending one at 8 pm,” said Parel-resident Rose Fernandes.
For others who made it to the list of 50 allowed to physically attend the mass in their church, the wait for entry was one hour. A parishioner of the St Ignatius of Loyola Church in Vasai (West) who did not wish to be named, said, “We reached one hour early and people had already started to queue up. They allowed the first 45-46 people to attend the 7:30 pm mass and then locked the gates. There were no decorations outside the church but only a small crib made inside. I have never missed midnight mass since childhood. This was a very different experience but better than viewing online.”
“We have no midnight mass. We have two services in the morning on Christmas to scatter the crowd. Our service will be live on Facebook so people can stay home and watch. We don’t want people to get out at night and break curfew rules,” said Reverend Biju Thampy of the Gateway Church in Goregaon.
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