Lifting the ban on religious worship in Lagos State and matters arising

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It is our humble opinion that there are a number of points to be emphasized and issues to be raised in respect of the subject matter for the attention of the Lagos State government.

In a totally secularized culture, there is a tendency to view prayer, devotions, and worship (attending Mass, Eucharistic exposition and adoration, processions etc.) like any other activity, for example, going to the cinema or a football match, or restaurant, which is not essential and therefore can be cancelled for the sake of taking every precaution to curb the spread of a deadly contagion. BUT prayer, devotion, worship and above all Confession and Holy Mass are essential for us Catholics to remain healthy and strong spiritually and for us to seek God’s help in a time such as this of grave danger for humanity. While the state can provide reasonable science-based regulations for the safeguarding of health, it is not the ultimate provider of health and life. God is. So whatever the state proposes must respect God and His Laws by listening to the Church.

Luckily, the Church has as its “native right” full freedom and autonomy in carrying out her ministry, which is given proper social and public expression in the celebration of Holy Mass and the administration of six other Sacraments – each Sacrament is administered by the priest direct to the faithful and never through any electronic means. There is need also to remind us that in matters of the Sacraments the Church is not subject to the State because the Catholic Church alone and not the State has competence in spiritual matters. The present confusion arises from the notion that every institution is subject to the state.

It is the secularism of the West that is responsible for it choosing to confine the elderly and to isolate them, leaving them with the risk of dying of “despair and loneliness”. As Africans, we should deplore the developed West’s rejection of African traditional values such as respect for life, for the family, and for the elderly and our answer to these could only be a response of faith: to accompany the elderly towards a probable death, in dignity and above all in the hope of eternal life.

Secularism led Boris Johnson, British PM who was baptized a Catholic, to declare, following his near death encounter with Covid-19, that “the beating heart of the U.K. is the National Health Service (NHS)” not Jesus Christ in the Tabernacles of U.K’s Catholic Churches. However, he was quickly tutored by a priest that the beating heart of the U.K. is not NHS but IHS (Iesus Hominum Salvator); Jesus Saviour of Man and this is also true of our country Nigeria.

This pandemic has hit Western societies at their most vulnerable point with us the third world a disaster waiting to happen, but God forbid. “The West had been organized to minimize/deny God, to deny death, to hide it, to ignore it. Death came in through the front door! Who did not see those giant mortuaries on wheels in New York, Madrid, Milan etc. taking turns to be loaded? These are the images of a society that not long ago was promising an immortal, augmented man.Triumphant modernity has collapsed in the face of death” so wrote Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea.

“The Wuhan virus has revealed that, despite its assurances and security, this earthly world was still paralyzed by the fear of death. The world can solve health crises. It will certainly solve the economic crisis. But it will never solve the enigma of death. Faith alone has the answer and the Church’s only “raison d’être” is faith in Christ. She must give up thinking of herself as a worldly institution relying only on science. The Church is there to announce that Jesus conquered death through His resurrection. This is at the heart of her message. In the face of death there is no human response that can hold.  Only the hope of eternal life can surpass the scandal of death. But who is the man who will dare to preach hope?”

Above all, we believe that only by turning to God in a penitential and reparatory manner in prayer, Eucharistic devotions and processions could this pestilence/pandemic be halted. The places of worship have cooperated very well so far and the govt. should allow them freedom of worship which is their inalienable right.

Regarding the State government’s guidelines for public worship we note that there was no age restriction for market opening so why introduce it for places of worship? Is it not the same people who patronize markets that attend Services? It is absurd to assume that people will be less amenable to discipline in Churches than in markets?

The rights of freedom of worship and freedom of association of both under 15s and over 65s which are constitutional rights are being brazenly violated by govt. through these guidelines and if not immediately rescinded will lead to chaos. The over 65s should be allowed to decide for themselves or in consultation with their family members whether or not it is in their best interest to visit worship centers now or later. Have the authorities considered the age spread of the Imams, pastors and priests who run these centers? This age discrimination is sure to disqualify a critical percentage of these functionaries and will make worship impossible at very many worship centers. For example, over 90% of the principal officiating officers at the Holy Cross Cathedral Lagos since the Covid-19-induced live-streaming of Masses would be disqualified by this age barrier.

It is obvious that public worship is not open to the under 15s in order to justify the continuation of schools lockdown but this should not be because we know that children accompanied by parents will be made to social distance in Church but that this will not be the case for children resuming school now. Note also that a majority of Mass Servers are under 15s and that this service is essential for Masses to hold.

It has been observed, as is to be expected after such a long lockdown, that religious services at some States and the FCT since the reopening of worship centers have been rowdy. We know however that Weekday Masses normally attract about 15% attendance and so govt. guidelines will be easier observed at weekday than at Sunday Masses. Thinking outside the box, why not allow weekday services resume without age restrictions so worship centers can use them to gather useful experience for running the oversubscribed Sunday services better. We in fact see no justifiable reason for banning weekday services because these services are never overcrowded and so will easily accommodate the over 65s. Weekday services will also take the pressure off Sunday services.  

The restrictions placed on places of worship are turning out to be examples of how scientists, the media and other experts and public officials allow political considerations to influence their allegedly objective scientific judgments. Science has not come out in flying colours over Covid-19 and this is fact.

 Govt. should listen to truth and reason so that Covid-19 “sanitary” measures do not turn to “sanitary” dictatorships, which will then be resisted.