Church in Congo suspends sacraments during Ebola outbreak

IMAGE: CNS photo/Kenny Katombe, Reuters

By Jonathan Luxmoore

OXFORD, England (CNS) — The
Catholic Church in Congo said emergency measures will remain indefinitely in place
in parishes at risk of Ebola, and urged effective action against the disease by
the government of President Joseph Kabila.

“Although Masses are
continuing, sacraments such as baptism and confirmation have had to be
suspended,” said Msgr.
Jean-Marie Bomengola, secretary of the church’s Social Communications

“Since we can’t foresee how the
disease will develop, we can’t set out any timescale. But the crisis needs real
containment measures, and we’re counting on the government to provide
them,” he said.

Health care workers toiled to head
off a feared epidemic in the Equateur province in northwest Congo, where at
least 25 people have died of the almost-always fatal disease.

Msgr. Bomengola told Catholic News
Service June 7 that at least 1,000 people had been vaccinated and that measures
were in place to prevent “any personal contact” among Catholics.

“All precautions are being
taken to ensure people don’t come too close. It’s a highly abnormal
situation,” he said.

“The church provides a key framework
for communication and cooperation, and is at the very center of events, mobilizing
preventive initiatives and providing transport and medical care,” he

UNICEF said June 5 that nearly 300,000
people had been screened since the Ebola outbreak was confirmed May 8 by the
World Health Organization.

Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, co-adjutor archbishop
of Kinshasa who previously served in the Diocese of Mbandaka-Bikoro, where the outbreak
occurred, decided to suspend administering sacraments to protect churchgoers
from contracting the disease.

He said the ban would extend to anointing
the sick, exchanging the sign of peace and other acts involving physical
contact, adding that a June 3 ordination Mass also had been canceled.

The archbishop added that clergy
would dispense Communion to hands rather than mouths and would ensure sacred
objects were disinfected before and after every Mass.

The Ebola outbreak coincides with
political tension in Congo over preparations for long-postponed December
elections as well as violence by armed groups in several provinces.

Msgr. Bomengola told CNS Ebola had
“made everything more difficult for the population,” adding that
there were fears the disease could spread down the Congo River from the trading
hub of Mbandaka to
Kinshasa, a city of 10 million.

“We’re trying to instill a calm
hope for better things, to maintain the faith and prevent despair,” he

“But we also rely on the
government to take every effective step to end insecurity and stop this
disease. Despite all the anger and hostility around us, normal life has to

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