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HDR Sister sheds light on “the impact of COVID-19 on rural churches”

Covid-19 is still with us. As new cases decline in some countries, other countries like Spain, Brazil among others are still on the rise recording cases with new deaths occurring. Covid-19 has affected all angles of life from politics to economics and even on religion.

Religion plays a vital role in the world especially in Africa, where the strength and unity of families and communities are based on the practices and beliefs of their religion. Most religions speak and practice the acts of coming together to offer prayers and thanksgiving to their “object” of worship.

Focusing on Christianity, Catholics, in particular, were spirit – fainted when Rome (Italy), the Eternal City, was hit hard with the unpleasant rise in infections and soaring death rates. For weeks, Italy among other countries like the USA had their names flaunting the media because of their plights.

As part of the measures to reduce the spread of the virus churches were closed indefinitely including the Vatican City, the seat of the Holy Father the first time because of health issues. News of the Pope celebrating Mass for the first time went viral, the Catholic faithful had to watch the Pope celebrate Mass online. For the first time in history, the greatest feast of the Christian religion, i.e, Easter, had to be celebrated virtually. This was the same for other Christian denominations and other religions.

Islam, for instance, was not spared either. Muslims suffered the same fate during their fasting period in preparation for their Eid-Fitr celebration. The directive to avoid social gathering was to be upheld and strictly observed, hence they could not gather in the mosque to pray but did so privately in their respective homes.

They would have wished to gather at Independence Square in Accra and other Jubilee parks in the regions but all these joyful and solemn gathering have been forfeited in the name of “Mr. COVID-19”.
The new worship is online and private family worship in homes. How effective have these forms of worship been?. Are there adherents following the online services?. Is the domestic church/mosque in worship? This write-up takes a look at the impact of COVID-19 on religion and spirituality.

The first method religious communities adopted when the ban on the social gathering was placed was online worship or “teleworship”. The online church/mosque service or “teleworship” came as a relief to many Christians, Moslems, and other religions. Most of the faithful glued to their phones, computers, and TVs on the first Sunday of the announcement. This initiative was and has been appreciated by all especially those who have access to the Internet, electricity and the like to view from their homes, services led by their religious leaders.

Inasmuch as Covid-19 is present with us, and religion has lived with us, so it is in the rural areas. The people in these areas used to join hands with their own (in the same religion) on said days say Fridays for Moslems, and Saturdays or Sundays for Christians to worship. After their services, with heartfelt joy and happiness, they greeted one another with love and hoped to meet again on their next service day. But it’s not the same in this Covid-19 era because of the one common good which is to control the spread of the virus and eradicate it among us.

It has not been a welcoming deal for these people. In the bid to avoid the spread of the virus, natives in these areas are possibly building new “viruses” of depression, frustration, unfulfillment among others. Do they get the same joy while they stay home without a religious gathering? Where is the happiness and hope to meet their “own” in the next service day? Are their spirits still uplifted amidst missing church/mosque services? I hope this “new virus” does not destroy them before these people get infected by the actual Coronavirus.

On the extreme of banning social gatherings, there could have been the hope that their religious leaders could visit them and bring them goodwill and hopeful messages but another directive of ‘only go out when it is needed’ has locked these leaders from reaching out to their members in their various homes. Covid-19 has not been fair to these people.

Living in their homes without the internet has not been a bother, hence these people are not much disturbed about online services. But let’s look at the sums of money their leaders would have to pay at the information centers for airtime and light if they were to deliver their religious messages to their members through that media. Who would assist them pay should they run into debt?

As such, praying as individuals or families has been challenging. Most of these believers depended on their religious leaders and prayed together. Their faith were built regularly from the messages they hear at their services, and through other programs being organized for them to gain a deeper knowledge of their religion. All these have been cemented because of directives to curb the spread of the Coronavirus.

Not forgetting the ministers or leaders who led their faithful in religious services. Are they still ministers and leaders in this era when they cannot fully administer and exercise their duties? How well are they reaching out to their people when they can not go out to organize sessions, or gather their people to pray together.

What would be the faith and fate of our people in the rural areas who held religion with high esteem after the Covid-19 era?

All the same, I applaud the World Health Organization for bringing out measures to curb and reduce the spread of Coronavirus. Thumbs up to the leaders in Italy for their great efforts in encouraging their citizens to adhere to the directives. After a period of weeks, church services in Rome, Italy has resumed, under the observances of strict directives. We hope sooner than we expect, news of uplifting of bans on the social gathering, closure of institutions among others will flood the media, and life will return to normalcy.

 

Source: Sr Jennifer A. Aikins, HDR
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