GOVERNMENT has announced, in time for the religious holiday of Corpus Christi, the resumption of worship. It is undoubtedly a risky move, though one justified on the available data as well as the sustenance that fellowship offers believers.
Thus far we have been fortunate. There has been no spike in covid19 cases.
The Corpus Christi holiday provides a good opportunity to test the waters further. It is a feast that normally involves outdoor activity, whether through processions or garden activity.
The RC Church has a chance to implement new measures on a day when heavy rainfall can normally be expected to put a damper on turnout. But the church should still prepare for crowds.
All religious bodies need to comply quickly with the basic requirements. Physical distancing is still compulsory, so places of worship have to be reconfigured. Additionally, the limit on the number of people allowed to congregate means limits to the number of worshippers, and possibly staggered schedules of worship.
As a show of compassion, stragglers will have to be accommodated. If so, special areas should be designated.
The new normal means religious bodies can no longer afford to think primarily in terms of preaching to a gathered flock. Pastoral outreach has to take new forms in lieu of the traditional means by which leaders minister.
Worshippers, like citizens, are also still expected to be responsible. If gathering can be avoided by watching a live stream or by doing some other private activity in fellowship with others, that should still be embraced. You will be forgiven for dispensing with handshakes and hugs. Masks remain essential.
Some religious officials are clearly in no rush to reopen, even with the Prime Minister’s announcement. Nor are all their followers, including members of the older demographic most vulnerable to covid19, about to let loose.
Still, the shocking moment when some churches – at the height of this crisis – decided to defy the State, common sense and concern for other people’s welfare, by holding mass gatherings, should remain at the forefront of consideration. The police must work in tandem with religious officials to ensure compliance.
It is worth noting that all over the world, the covid19 pandemic has tested the separation between church and state like never before. Mosques, temples, and other venues were among the first to be shuttered.
The fact that the State has exercised its power to halt gatherings for public health reasons shows that a government always has a wider responsibility.
Though freedom of religious observance and freedom of assembly are unquestionably rights, they are not absolute.
It turns out the State always has a higher duty to protect that most precious of rights, the right to life.