Sri Lanka churches reopen but worshippers against 50-person limit
by Melani Manel Perera

Yesterday, the first Sunday service was held after three months of COVID-19lockdown. For worshippers, the 50-person limit can work in small parishes, but not in larger ones. Restrictions on religious gatherings are too strict. Some dioceses have not respected government limits; others have had to hold up to 16 services in a single day.


Colombo (Sri Lanka) – Church doors reopened yesterday for the first Sunday in three months after a ban on large gatherings was imposed because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. However, for Catholics, the limit of 50 people per service is unfair.

The government imposed a lockdown on 15 March. All religious services and activities were halted. On 7 June, Card Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, asked the authorities to allow public places of prayer to reopen whilst respecting anti-coronavirus regulations. A day later, Anil Jasinghe, head of the National Health Service, announced that religious services could resume on 12 June.

Speaking to AsiaNews, some worshippers said that “After three months it is nice for us to go back to pray in church and receive communion.” However, they are critical of the limit of 50 people, which they say can work in smaller parishes, but not in larger ones.

Some point out that “There are very large churches, with big entrances and corridors that allow social distancing".

On 8 June, the government partially lifted social confinement measures. The curfew is only valid from midnight to 4 am. Cars are back on the roads, and Sri Lankans can now travel by bus and train. Tuition classes resumed from 15 June with a maximum of 100 students. The same number of people can now attend weddings.

Catholics wonder why the criteria for religious services is stricter. Priests do not want to choose who can attend Mass. This would mean that the faithful will be spread out over services, up to 16 a day, especially in the larger parishes that have thousands of members.

Some dioceses have not respected the government's limits, and allowed 100 to 200 people to attend Mass. Still, "parishioners paid attention to the safety distance,” said Niranjani Roland, who attended the Sunday service at St Joseph Catholic Church in Colombo.

Photo: Niranjani Roland