FROM THE CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE OWERRI ECCLESIASTICAL PROVINCE, IN THE LIGHT OF THE OUTBREAK OF THE EBOLA VIRUS DISEASE.
Our Help is in the Name of the Lord
Who made Heaven and Earth – Ps.124:8
As believers in God we approach every situation in life with a spirit of trust in His Providence. As rational beings we equally think out practical ways to deal with challenges in life such as the current outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). As medical experts tell us it is highly infectious and contagious and has a very high fatality rate. Apparently for this disease, there is no available cure or vaccine. Given that the Ebola crisis has raised serious concerns about our Pastoral ministry, We the Bishops of the Owerri Ecclesiastical Province issue the following Directives to you our Priests and our People:
1. Awareness and Sensitization: We exhort our priests entrusted with the care of souls to enlist the services of medical doctors, other health workers and media practitioners in sensitizing our people on the Ebola Virus Disease. With the assistance of our health-care personnel, we urge our Parishes and other Church institutions, especially schools at all levels, to mount preventive education for the faithful to check the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease. Its symptoms, effects, and preventive measures should be clearly explained
2. Care for the Infected: Through our health-care departments and institutions- hospitals, maternities and clinics – adequate care should be given to those infected along with relevant education to check the spread of the virus.
3. Personal Hygiene: Encourage our people to practise frequent washing of hands using suitable hand-washing liquids, hand sanitizers and disinfectants. Personal clothing should be kept clean including handkerchiefs.
4. Environmental Hygiene: Godliness demands over-all cleanliness. We therefore urge all our people to ensure that our homes, toilets, kitchens, surroundings, market places, public eating places and play grounds are regularly kept clean. In addition, our government at all levels and our local communities should ensure regular disposal of refuse and dirt.
5. Sick Call: Priests should exercise caution and discretion when they go for sick calls particularly when they have to administer the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. Priests and their helpers should regularly wash their hands after visiting the sick in hospitals and homes. In the case of outright Ebola patients appropriate medical measures should be taken.
6. Holy Water Bowls: The use of Holy Water Fonts at the entrance of the Church should be discontinued forthwith until the virus alert is lifted. This does not preclude private use of Holy Water in homes and offices.
7. Washing of hands: Wash-hand bowls or basins, soap and disposable towels should be provided in the sacristy for regular use by altar servers, priests and others. Ensure the availability of clean water and waste containers.
8. The Sign of Peace: We shall continue to give the usual sign of peace at Mass through the hand-shake. If exigencies call for it, the sign of peace hand-shake will be suspended.
9. Holy Communion: Communion on the tongue remains the norm, our accustomed practice. However, if exigencies call for it, communion in the hand will be allowed. In that case, the faithful will be duly educated and prepared for it. Priests and others involved should wash their hands properly before distributing Holy Communion. The faithful should observe mouth-hygiene and due reverence in receiving Holy Communion.
10. Caution at funerals: The remains of the dead should be very carefully handled before and during funerals to avoid the risk and threat of infection. In case of outright death through the Ebola Virus Disease special arrangements will be made in consultation with the diocese and medical practitioners.
11. Counting Offerings/Collection: The use of hand-gloves in the counting of money – offerings is highly recommended. There should be proper washing of hands thereafter.
12. Do not panic! Be Cautious: To all our faithful and our people at large we say – do not panic! Do not let fear, anxiety and rumours becloud your common sense. Rather adhere to proper health and medical advice to avert and avoid any infection.
13. Call for Prayer: We request that Holy Masses for the eradication of the Ebola Virus Disease be celebrated in our parishes and chaplaincies. Pray earnestly for victims, health workers and those who have died since the outbreak. Pray too, for healthcare givers, who by their profession and vocation, cannot abandon the sick and are at grave risk in carrying out their duties. Let us equally pray for the good health of one another.
We implore the intercession of Our Mother Mary, Help of Christians and Health of the Sick in these trying times invoking the familiar prayer – Memorare – Remember O Most Blessed Virgin Mary – Cheta .
God bless you all.
Most Rev. Anthony J. V. Obinna
Most Rev. Augustine T. Ukwuoma
Given in Owerri, 15th August 2014, the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Assumed into Heaven.