Churches wait on government's direction before suspending public prayer services
(This story has been updated)
Heads of Christian churches here are waiting on the government of Dominica to issue guidelines on social distancing before they begin shutting down the gates of church buildings around Dominica in response to the world-wide new coronavirus that causes the deadly COVID-19 disease.
"My understanding is that if we have a case the government will issue certain directions," said Pastor Randy Rodney, President of the Evangelical Churches. "If that happens it's going to be a blow for us because most of our churches don't have the facilities to have service online. We will also be concerned about psychosocial help and people do need that encouragement but we will take that decision when it comes. For now we don't want to preempt anything."
Bishop Gabriel Malzaire, the head of the Roman Catholic Church here said: "We are in a kind of waiting mood…and we have also advised against the hand shaking etc."
Bishop Malzaire said Catholics are being asked to strictly follow the guidelines regarding receiving Holy Communion, sharing the Sign of Peace, the Holy Water Font, and other measures regarding coughing and sneezing.
"I recommend that all parishes hold a well-prepared penitential service during the Lenten Season at which the parish priest will be authorized by the Bishop to administer general absolution to the faithful penitents," Bishop Malzaire said.
In addition, the Diocesan Youth Rally which was scheduled to take place on Saturday, April 4th 2020 has been postponed to a later date and all Lenten retreats were to be held at a community level to reduce large gatherings.
Additionally, Bishop Malzaire encourages various small groups to assemble for vigils, Stations of the Cross and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, to "pray earnestly for God's protection against COVID-19".
But in St. Lucia, Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana public church services have been suspended and when asked if that will also be done in Dominica, Bishop Malzaire said everything depends on how events unfold.
"We have not yet been advised about any cases of coronavirus in Dominica so as a result we can't take such action unlike our other sister Caribbean islands," he said.
On Sunday the Government of Dominica announced the confirmation of the island's first case of COVID-19.
Bishop Malzaire is also expected to meet this week with some members of the clergy to update guidelines especially for Holy Week.
"We have sent out a circular to the various churches asking them to observe all the measures that are put forward to us by the Ministry of Health among which they are asking that all communion ministers wash their hands with soap before and after delivering communion," Bishop Malzaire said.
He also said that the use of paper towels, hand sanitizers and liquid soap in washrooms was compulsory.
On Tuesday, 24 March 2020, in a press statement titled : Update to Diocesan Guidelines re COVID-19, Bishop Malzaire wrote: "Effective immediately, all public church gatherings, including Lenten Retreats, Sunday and weekday Masses are suspended until further notice".
He added: "As regards funerals, it is advised the no more than 10 persons attend and that the service be of a reasonably short duration.
"The celebration of the Mass of the Holy Chrism will take place at the Cathedral Chapel on Wednesday, April 8, 2020 with a group of the clergy".