‘We need God on our side’ as places of worship open
Churches, temples, mosques, synagogues and other recognised places of worship are preparing to receive congregants from Monday.
Leaders say it won’t be business as usual while the country fights an invisible enemy. Some places of worship which fall within Covid-19 hot spots have been advised by councils to keep their doors shut.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the country would be moving to Covid-19 alert level 3 on June 1, which would allow faith-based organisations to resume their duties under strict health and sanitisation protocols. Only 50 congregants, wearing masks and observing social distancing, would be allowed to gather.
The president has also declared Sunday as a national day of prayer.
Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, head of the Roman Catholic Church, said religious leaders had proposed the national prayer to Ramaphosa as the country needed guidance on the way forward during the pandemic.
“At the moment, we need God on our side very much to show us the way ahead,” he said. “Each church will have to do what it can, because we will still be under lockdown on Sunday.”
Napier said before reopening, the church was following a process built on what the SA Council of Churches had produced and presented to Ramaphosa as a protocol of safety measures.
“We have drawn up a document that will help priests to prepare themselves and when they are prepared they need to report to the Dean that they are ready with the measures they have put in place,” Napier said.
Krishna Reddy, chairperson at the Umbilo Shree Ambalavaanar Alayam Temple, said it would maintain all the regulations put in place by the government. He said prior to the lockdown, the temple usually received numbers fewer than 50, with the majority being families who came in small groups. He said the temple would not find difficulty in managing numbers.
Ashwin Trikamjee, president of the Hindu Maha Sabha of South Africa, said together with the Purohit Council of the Shree Sanathan Dharma Sabha of SA, Arya Samaj South Africa, and other religious and faith-based organisations, they had developed rules which were to be strictly enforced at all temple gatherings.
“No one is permitted to socialise after the prayer. An advanced register of attendees has to be developed and if capacity is reached this can be communicated to the congregation to avoid possible unpleasant situations,” Trikamjee said.
“A Covid-19 subcommittee should be established. A register of all devotees attending, including names, ID numbers and phone numbers must be kept. It would be useful to keep a log of where everyone sits.”
It was also decided that only priests could control and regulate all rituals and poojas (prayers) while wearing masks and gloves. Books, musical instruments and food were not permitted to be shared, while temple personnel were expected to be on standby to ensure rules are followed.
Dr Faisal Suliman, chairperson of the South African Muslim Network, said mosques were already arranging volunteers, marshalls and working on shortening prayer times, especially during Friday prayers.
“Prayers will be staggered using apps, WhatsApp groups and registers with the mosques. The larger mosques will be challenging as most people pray on Fridays,” he said.
“We will make the best of a bad situation. We all have to play our part to flatten the curve. It is up to us to be innovative and to be patient.”
Suliman said the Muslim community had long been praying for the country. He said payers had been extensive during the month of Ramadan and they would continue.
“We pray five times a day. All our prayers include that the Almighty God helps us to overcome this pandemic. People have to remember that there is one God who created absolutely everything. We are one humanity and there is only one God who has created all of us equally.
“It would be foolish for religious groups to only pray for themselves.”
However, the Muslim Judicial Council has recommend that mosques delay opening their doors for congregational prayers for at least another month.
Shaykh Irafaan Abrahams, the council president, said mosques that open their doors tomorrow must comply with safety regulations and recommended a slow phasing in of people, starting with a small number and gradually increasing.
“Masajid (mosques) that are situated in areas identified by the province as ‘hot spots’ are recommended to remain closed for congregational prayer until the situation in that area improves,” he said.
Michael Swain, executive director at Freedom of Religion South Africa, said although Ramaphosa had given places of worship the green light, they did not have to open.
“Every denomination or organisation must decide for themselves, subject to being able to comply with the specified protocols.
“Equally, members of each faith community must decide for themselves whether or not to attend, based upon their personal health risk assessment and taking into account the possible knock-on effect on the most vulnerable members of our society.”