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Faithful still avoid churches

By Kirsten Kanja | July 27th 2020
Catholic faithful observe the social distance rule during a Sunday mass at the Holy Family Basilica, Nairobi. Only 100 worshippers are allowed per service.[Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The Holy Family Basilica, one of the large churches in Nairobi’s city centre, is typically a beehive of activity.

With a sitting capacity of about 300-400, and located at the nerve centre of the city, it receives worshipers from all walks of life.

After Sunday mass, adult church groups meet to pray, and plan on duties within the church, as children attend their pastoral programme and baptism classes.

However, all these activities have ceased with coronavirus, leaving the church strictly for the purpose of worship.

Yesterday, cautious worshippers began trickling into the church compound following the reopening of houses of prayer on July 14.

The resumption of congregated prayer was rolled out in phases under strict guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health, including suspension of attendance by children under 13 years and those above 58 years and with underlying health conditions.

“I’m 58 years old, and I’m worried that I may be barred from mass,” says Jeremiah Owino, who was eventually let into one of the Sunday masses, following routine hand washing and temperature check at the entrance.

There are new hand washing stations set up in multiple places within the church compound, each with soap and sanitisers, strategically placed near all entrances and exits.

Additionally, security personnel are now tasked with checking temperature as well as ensuring arriving congregants have properly worn their face masks before entry.

“Only 100 worshippers per mass are let in. We have two venues where service is conducted. Once the main church is full with 100 congregants each sitting at least 1.5 metres apart, we open up the hall for another 100 to attend mass there,” said a priest at the church.

According to guidelines provided by the Interfaith Council of Kenya, practices which involve physical contact, such as offering the sign of peace or passing the offertory basket will stop in the new way of worship.

“Priests and clergy administering Holy Communion in Catholic churches will also be required to sanitize beforehand. If any physical contact occurs between the minister and the communicant, the minister should immediately sanitize his hands,” reads a July 7 document by the Interfaith Council.

According to a security guard, the first service saw less than 100 congregants attend, failing to reach the full recommended capacity as many worshippers remained home.

The closure of places of worship was announced by the government on March 22 as a measure to contain the spread of Covid-19. 

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