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COVID-19 lockdown stalls Palm Sunday procession

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Perhaps for the first time in history, Christians in the country yesterday marked this year’s Palm Sunday in their homes and neighbourhoods to which they have been confined by the government because of the coronavirus.

Because churches and mosques are currently locked, the Christians could not hold the usual ceremonies and processions that depict the Biblical Jesus Christ riding on a donkey to Jerusalem.

The President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Samson Ayokunle, said no other disease had generated so great a fear in the hearts of all and disrupted the social-economic system of the world in the past 100 years as the coronavirus pandemic.

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He observed that “what has contributed more to the fear is the fact that the Western world which we had depended upon for quick solution or support at a time like this appears to be brought down to its knees for help wherever it can come from.”

In his message to mark the Palm Sunday, Ayokunle said the situation called for sober reflection on people’s ways of life.

The CAN president, who urged Nigerians not to be naive with their faith, pointed out that faith without knowledge might be dangerous, adding that God who gave the medical experts knowledge wanted people to appropriate such knowledge to their advantage.

“At a time like this, I want to encourage you to be strong in the Lord and stand firm against the wiles of the devil set in motion by the pit of hell to destroy our future.

“At a time like this when the coronavirus pandemic is doing havoc worldwide, the hearts of many people are failing them especially in the Western world where it has done more havoc than elsewhere.

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“The medical personnel are overwhelmed while they themselves have fallen victims of the attack of this rude virus. Even medical personnel from Nigeria are being wooed by American government with immediate visa at their embassy if they wish to come and work. The virus does not respect anybody whether high or low. We appear to be a bit luckier in Africa because it has not been able to kill as many people as it did in the West”.

The Catholic Bishop of Abuja Archdiocese, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, said the stay-at-home order by the Federal Government was aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19.

Kaigama, who spoke to journalists after celebrating a privately televised Palm Sunday Mass at the Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Pro-Catherdal, Area 3, Garki, Abuja, said as patriotic citizens, Catholics must comply with the order because the Bible urges obedience to constituted civil authorities.

“It is a sober period and since people cannot move about freely due to the stay-at-home order, and being patriotic citizens, we must comply.

“We get some Catholics and Christians who say who is the government to tell us what to do with our faith, but we must apply reason to faith.

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“If there is a pandemic that will wipe all of us away and we insist that we must gather because God is greater than the government and so on, then we are not obeying even the scriptures because we are told to obey constituted civil authorities

“I beg Nigerians to realise that this is a passing moment, this is a crisis that will definitely pass with the aggression I see the Federal Government is trying to tackle it, and even the global community is trying to tackle it. I am sure we shall overcome,” the cleric said.

Members of the Methodist Church in Lagos and Abuja also observed the Palm Sunday silently in the privacy of their rooms.

Many of the church members observed the day through an online message platform announced to them by their leaders who had earlier circulated the order of service through WhatsApp and other social media platforms.

Speaking to The Guardian in Lagos, Bishop Samuel Nortey of the Methodist Church, Lagos Cathedral, explained: “Nobody wished and prayed that this year’s Palm Sunday should come the way it came but as believers and children of God we are hopeful and trust God that as it was in the days of children of Jerusalem so shall it be for us as God’s people. This day is remarkable because the story behind Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem is that he was actually going into Jerusalem to die for the sins of the world and to save the world from external destruction and death.”

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In Taraba State, some worshipers who spoke to The Guardian expressed dismay that the government did not relax the order against church services for Christians to mark the Palm Sunday which comes once in a year.

The worshippers who did not see anything wrong with the closing down of markets, shops, schools, said worship centres should have been opened “so that together we can pray against this monster called COVID-19.”

But in compliance with the order from the Vatican City and the state government, Catholic priests who spoke with The Guardian said the need for the church to adhere to the instruction of the pope and that of the government had become necessary.

The Director of Communication, Jalingo Catholic Dioceses, Rev. Fr. John Lukai, said the church had to adhere to the guideline issued by the Vatican on how to mark the Palm Sunday by doing so in their homes.

There was also no Palm Sunday procession yesterday by Christians in Enugu as most church buildings were under lock and key in compliance with the lockdown announced by the state government.

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In some places, however, where the residents defied the order to attend the Palm Sunday service, their activities were disrupted by security operatives who moved around the state to ensure that there were no gatherings of Christians anywhere.

While the Catholic Church had locked its doors against worshippers in the last two weeks “until further notice”, the orthodox churches continued with their activities but complying with the directive on social distancing by ensuring that not more than 20 worshippers at a time and sanitizing members at entrances to church building, among others.

At Our Saviour Anglican Church, Awkunanaw, Enugu, the Vicar, Rev. Emeka Iheama, urged the members to raise their palm fronds which he blessed and directed that they should preserve them pending another Lenten period. He said the procession would not hold because of the lockdown against coronavirus.

The Imo State government warned that it would be strict on enforcing the order preventing churches and public gatherings from yesterday.

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The order was contained in a statement at the weekend by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba, directing Christians to worship in their homes.

Also, Governor Hope Uzodinma had informed the citizens of the fumigation to be carried out in full from Sunday, urging residents to understand and comply with the stay-at-home order.

The Bishop, Anglican Diocese of Lagos, Rt. Rev. Humphrey Olumakaiye in his message for Palm Sunday yesterday commended the federal and Lagos State governments for their efforts “at putting a quick end to the disruption of our daily existence bordering on Coronavirus epidemic that has invaded the world and Nigeria.”

“Special commendation goes to our governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwoolu while we also identify with all the good people who have contributed and continued to contribute towards the alleviation of the sufferings of the weak and the vulnerable among us,” he said.

He urged everyone to trust in God as he expressed assurance that “this period would soon pass away, so instead of Nigerians allowing themselves to be filled with fear, hopelessness, discouragement, dread, negative confessions and disappointments, they should embrace and love Jesus Christ with the same kind of desperation with which He was welcomed into Jerusalem which is the reason the Palm Sunday is being marked today.”

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Also, the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese on the Coast, Ondo State, Rt. Rev. Oluseyi Pirisola, urged Nigerians to trust in God, live hygienic life and heed the advice of experts on how to avoid being infected by the deadly virus.

“It is actually the time to be careful and prayerful. Let us live the kind of life that keeps diseases away. The counsel of medical experts should not be discarded. And above all, we should rest assured that the God we serve will never disappoint us, especially at a time like this. We need to cooperate with the government to make the land safe for our health and general wellbeing.”

Thousands of Christians in Kaduna also celebrated the Palm Sunday in their homes as a result of the lockdown.

Even the usual procession by Catholics and other Christians could not hold as many people observed the 24-hour curfew in their homes. Armed security men were seen manning roads and highways.

In a broadcast (homily) by the Archbishop of Kaduna Catholic Diocese, Dr. Mathew Ndagoso, to the teeming faithful yesterday, he said that “given the situation that we are in today in the country, I am sure that the cry of Jesus hanging on the cross is a cry of so many millions around the world.

“As we are in difficult time like this, let us cry out to God, knowing that he always listens to us. You will agree with me that these times are not normal times. They are indeed challenging times. They are exceptional times. And therefore as we begin the holy week with this Palm Sunday celebration today, I challenge you, myself and all of us to endeavor to make the holy week
celebration an exceptional one.”

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