10/02/2020, 17.09
IRAQ
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After seven months, Baghdad churches reopen for Mass

The Chaldean Patriarchate announced the reopening of churches in the capital, albeit with fewer allowed participants and with strict observance of health regulations. Since “we shall have to live with the coronavirus,” we must reopen “gradually,” said the auxiliary bishop. The months of closure saw “great solidarity” among people.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Churches in Baghdad will reopen this Sunday, 4 October. This will happen “slowly, with much hope, many emotions and a lot of happiness, according to each church’s means and on the basis of a limited number [of worshippers] to maintain [social] distancing,” said Auxiliary Bishop Basel Yaldo of Baghdad, a close aide to Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako.

“If a place of worship has a capacity of 550, we shall accommodate a hundred, with a maximum of two people per pew. This is good news, after more than seven months of closure,” the prelate told AsiaNews.

The decision is the result of a collective realisation that “Since we will have to live with the coronavirus for a long time, we have decided to gradually reopen church doors. Mosques are also reopening.”

“The government has ordered the resumption of many activities, which is why we have also acted now. It is necessary to live with this virus, following the instructions of health professionals and the authorities, carefully whilst supporting the faithful.”

Iraq is one of the Mideast countries most affected by the novel coronavirus, coming on top of other long-standing problems like poverty and violence, which brought the country to the brink of collapse.

The Chaldean patriarch, Card Louis Raphael Sako, spoke about the pandemic several times as well, stressing that it offers a chance to think about developing a "deeper" faith and a more "supportive" society, allowing Iraqis to seize the "opportunities" provided by this tragic period.

In a statement posted on its website, the Chaldean patriarchate announced that the faithful will be able to go back gradually to the capital’s churches to attend Mass, starting this Sunday, subject to rigorous respect for the regulations enacted to prevent contagion inside the buildings.

First of all, the number of worshippers must be "appropriate" according to each building’s capacity. Worshippers must also strictly comply with “social distancing" and “wear a mask and gloves".

Hand sanitisers will be placed at church entrances and after each service, the church will be cleansed. Moreover, kissing, shaking hands and bowing to each other too closely are banned during Mass.

It is "preferable that the elderly not attend" as they are the most vulnerable and would suffer the worst consequences If they are infected. Should any worshipper test positive after a service, they must inform the Patriarchate for the appropriate tracking.

Last but not least, priests must be given the opportunity of celebrating one to three masses according to demand; each church must be able to accommodate a number of people varying between 50 and 100 depending on its size. These provisions also apply to other parish activities.

"In the past seven months, people have been very much afraid, most of them choosing to stay home to avoid contagion. We, as a Church, have tried to stay close to the people and support the neediest families with help and gifts,” said the bishop.

"Every month or two, depending on the circumstances, we gave each parish US$ 2,000 to buy basic necessities. In addition to remaining close to people, we also kept our spiritual presence alive by visiting families and celebrating Mass and praying online.

“One of the positive things that emerged during these months of pandemic is precisely the solidarity that people felt in a living Church that neglects no one.”

Finally, Bishop Yaldo remembers when he tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 together with another bishop, a priest (68-year-old Fr Salah, who died in just four days), and three nuns.

"I was isolated for ten days inside the patriarchate building, in my room, except for brief moments in the garden to enjoy some sunshine. I had no major symptoms and it ended on its own.

“Hopefully, the situation will improve in the near future, even if nothing will be as before. Hope lives on. We turn with optimism to the faithful and tell them to come back to the churches, a first step on a long journey.”

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