Kerala, celebrations of mass despite bans: priest arrested
by Nirmala Carvalho

Fr. Pauly Padayatty was later released on bail. Police arrested other people who participated in rallies and processions in temples and mosques. Card. Gracias celebrates online and makes new arrangements for funerals and confessions.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - A Catholic priest was arrested yesterday by the Kerala police for celebrating mass, despite the strict provisions issued by the authorities to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in India. Later Fr. Pauly Padayatty, from the diocese of Irinjalakkuda, publicly apologized and was released on bail.

The state of Kerala has ordered the closure of the places of worship but has not prohibited religious services, which can only be celebrated in the presence of the sacristan. For its part, the Episcopal Council of Kerala has issued a circular asking parishes to avoid large gatherings for mass. The rites are allowed, provided that the safety distance is respected and less than 50 people participate. In particular, the bishops ask children and the elderly not to leave the house and watch the mass online.

Padayatty, 58, is the parish priest of the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Koodapuzha. A priest from his diocese said that a family asked him to celebrate the funeral of a relative. The priest asked to respect the allowed limit of participants, but then in the end more than 100 people showed up. Therefore, the police arrested him for the high concentration of faithful and reported 50 other people.

In India, the number of reported coronavirus cases is 492 and with nine deaths. In other areas of Kerala the police have blocked religious gatherings in temples and mosques: in Kannur police filed a complaint against a temple and five mosques; in Malayinkeezhu they arrested 28 people who participated in a procession in a Hindu temple. However, on social media, images of crowded meetings abound, especially of Hindu politicians.

Card. Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai and president of the Indian Bishops' Conference (CBCI), suspended all masses, meetings with the clergy, priestly ordinations as well as the Chrism mass. He is celebrating mass online every morning at 7.30am. Yesterday the cardinal released a video message to the priests of his territory, inviting them to take "wise and prudent behavior for our people".

He asks priests not to expose themselves to the risk of contagion and stay home for the next two weeks, which will be the most crucial in terms of spreading the virus. He asks to minimize the staff of the parishes, and at the same time not to reduce the wages. Then he sets directives for funerals and confessions: for the first, he blocks the masses in memory of the deceased and invites to celebrate funeral rituals at the cemetery and with very few people, with prior notice from the authorities. For the latter, he warns that there are no conditions; however, general absolutions can be conceived for coronavirus patients and remote catechesis on the need for repentance for the remission of sins.