As Maharashtra battles to contain COVID-19, churches across the city are expected to hold their Sunday mass services live on social media platforms, encouraging parishioners to stay at home. The Bombay High Court was informed by Archdiocese of Mumbai, through Archbishop of Bombay Cardinal Oswald Gracias, that all public masses in 123 catholic churches under the Archbishop’s purview will be suspended from March 21 until April 4, to encourage social distancing, a measure necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Some churches in the city already started livestreaming of mass services last week.
Despite the clarion call by religious leaders across communities, on Friday, several mosques in the city saw hundreds turning up to offer Friday prayers, throwing government advisories, cautioning against assembling in large numbers, to the wind.
Two weeks ahead of Easter and Good Friday, the Christian community in the city is, however, exercising caution doing what it can to prevent parishoners from showing up at their churches. “In view of this uncertain situation, all church services should be suspended until further notice or at least for the next two weeks and instead use the digital platform to have online services, so as to comply with government directives which are in the best interest of public health,” Dr Abraham Mathai, president, Indian Christian Voice, and former vice chairman of the state minorities commission said in a message to community leaders on Thursday.
“If service is held then people will come that is why the church has to be locked down. On Sunday, or Good Friday or Easter, if a priest holds a service, then the parishoners will come. But if the service is not held at all and there is only live streaming, people will not come to church. That is the only way we can keep them at home,” said Mathai.
Reverend Biju Thampy of the Gateway Church in Goregaon held an online service last Sunday. Thampy said, “We had already asked the elderly, the sick to stay at home last Sunday. We held a very small service at the church but this Sunday we will have only an online service through live streaming. I will not even hold it in church. I will be holding it from a lounge room and encourage parishioners to enjoy the presence of God from home. The order of the service will be different. We believe that the church is the people and not the building and at a time like this, it is our number one responsibility to be responsible citizens.”
Thampy said that many churches in the city intended to have similar services. Mathai said, “A church in Andheri has already recorded its service today. It will be live streamed on Sunday.”
Meanwhile, a grotto of Our Lady of Velankani in Sahar village has been cordoned off in the wake of the pandemic. Said Nicholas Almeida, an Andheri resident, “When people come to offer prayers to our statue of Our Lady of Velankani in our village, they kiss the glass case that it is behind. The Mahim Church is not holding novenas, all churches have asked people to pray from home so I also had to close our grotto by putting bamboos in front of the statue. Now people only look at it from a distance. We say our rosaries at home and our special prayers will also be from home.”
At the St Peter’s Church in Bandra, at the evening mass live streamed on Friday evening, parishoners were told that ‘Christian charity’ would ask them to give up their mass or the holy communion that might even bring inconvenience or boredom to them but it would be for the sake of the community.
In a message sent to parishioners Father Frazer Mascarenhas, the parish priest, said, “Let’s be quarantined with Jesus!” “The church will be open for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening every day only for prayers. There will be no programme or services until April 4. If the government decides to continue with the lockdown beyond that, we will have live streaming even during the holy week from April 5 to April 12,” Mascarenhas said.
Pearl Rodricks (72), who attends the evening mass at Vincent Palloti Church in Marol, said she is now getting used to watching the mass on YouTube. “At first I would miss going to mass but now I am used to it. The church is also closed and we, as senior citizens, have to take care of ourselves. My husband and I both watch the evening mass on YouTube. I will miss going to church on Good Friday and Easter but at such a time, we all have to do what we can to stay safe and healthy. Our priests have also told us to stay at home,” she said.
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