Mideast Churches adopt precautionary guidelines to deal with coronavirus

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For Mgr Pizzaballa, measures are needed to counter the rapid spread of the virus, like emptying fonts and receiving the Communion by hand. The Chaldean Church is vetting the possibility of suspending services. In Lebanon, the situation is still normal.


Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – From Iraq to the Holy Land, the Churches in the Middle East are taking action against the new coronavirus emergency by setting certain guidelines for the faithful to minimise the danger of infection.

In the most affected areas, Church leaders have not ruled out suspending Lent services – as a precaution – waiting to see how the outbreak develops more broadly.

In a message to bishops, priests, nuns and believers, Mgr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, has provided some precautionary guidelines for the Mass.

“The threat of the new coronavirus (Covid-19),” writes the prelate, requires measures to counter its rapid spread to “many areas and countries around the world.”

“Thousands of pilgrims from different parts of the world come to the Holy Land to visit the holy sites”. Given “our unique situation and after hearing from the Authorities, the following preliminary guidelines are issued in the Diocese of Jerusalem during the celebration of Masses:”

First of all, “receiving Communion” must be by “hand only,” avoiding the use of the chalice (except for people with celiac disease) to reduce the risk of infection.

“Another preventive suggestion is to empty the holy water fonts, especially in the holy sites and sanctuaries.

“During this time of Lent, we ask for our Lord’s mercy, as we pray for all who are distressed by this infirmity and eternal rest for those who have died.”

In the rest of the Middle East, the alert level is high to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, especially in Iran, the second most affected country in the world with 26 deaths and 270 cases. Local authorities have adopted a policy to quarantine individuals, not cities or regions.

Cases of infection have been reported in Kuwait, Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, whilst Saudi Arabia has suspended entry for pilgrims.

The Chaldean Church has issued some “practical recommendations” for parishes and communities to contain the outbreak.

“The Patriarchate” has ordered “its priests to follow certain preventive steps.” As in the Holy Land, the first one concerns the cleaning and emptying of holy water fonts, since they could facilitate contagion.

Another one is about the Communion, which should be given “by hands and not in the mouth”. It is also advisable to “avoid holding hands or exchanging kisses of greeting” during the services.

As it waits for developments, the Iraqi Church is vetting possibly more drastic and restrictive measures, like “cancelling Masses and other activities” should “the outbreak spread further.”

At the same time, the Church is calling for prayers to the Lord “to protect our country and the whole world”.

In Lebanon, services are being held as usual; no cancellations or changes are expected, Caritas Lebanon president Fr Paul Karam told AsiaNews.

“We have taken certain precautions, especially in dispensaries,” he said, but for the rest “we are relying on God’s help”.