ROSARIO, Argentina – After months of praying for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic from home after a forced shut down of Catholic churches to prevent the spread of the virus, several countries in Latin America are slowly resuming public services.
Meanwhile, in Uruguay, a cardinal is going to try – again – to place an image of the Virgin Mary in a public park.
Arguably the most secular country in Latin America, with an estimated 40 percent of the population not having any sort of religious affiliation, Uruguay is a nation where religious images in public spaces are hard to find.
Hence, back in 2017, newly-appointed Cardinal Daniel Sturla, archbishop of Montevideo, tried to place an image of the Virgin Mary on a seaside walk; after all, Catholic do represent another 40 percent of Uruguay’s 3.5 million citizens.
The efforts failed, with the departmental board rejecting the request, arguing that it’s time to “put limits to the occupation of the public space on the basis of actions that represent determined corporate groups.”
On Monday, Sturla welcomed Daniel Martinez — runner up in the last presidential election and the head of the executive branch of Montevideo when the board rejected the cardinal’s proposal — and the issue came up during their conversation.
Martinez reportedly expressed is support of the proposal, as he did back in 2017.
Speaking with local radio, Sturla said that even though this was not the core issue of their meeting, “for us, it’s obvious that the presence of the Virgin is very important, also because she’s a universal figure who represents maternity, compassion and tenderness, all things that in this situation of pandemic that we’re living, are definitely important.”
“The mother is also the one who knits families together, so I believe that such a maternal presence in Montevideo is important,” he said.
The former mayor, a member of the Uruguayan Socialist Party who in Nov. 2019 lost the presidential elections to Luis Lacalle Pou of the National Party by just over 37,000 votes, said he would allow the statue to be placed in the Rambla because “for us, secularism is to allow every expression to have it’s place, without leaving any of them behind, there were those who didn’t understand this, but it’s respectable.”
Back in 2017, after the board rejected the request, some 30,000 Catholics attended a Mass led by Sturla on the seaside walk, an iconic place in Montevideo.
— IglesiaCatólicaMdeo (@ICM_uy) October 8, 2017
The bishops conference in this Central American country announced that there will be a “gradual” reopening of churches beginning on August 30. An estimated 625 people have died in El Salvador from COVID-19, and 23,462 have tested positive.
“The coronavirus pandemic has left a trail of suffering, pain and death. Therefore, once again we express our closeness [to the Salvadorian people] at this difficult time,” the bishops wrote in their message.
Constant clashes between the government of Nayib Bukele and the legislative assembly, led by the opposition, have left the country without a clear law to regulate the health measures to contain the spread of the virus or even a fresh outbreak, as the country saw in June.
Bukele, elected last year on a reform mandate, has gone from being the “coolest president in the world” who regularly announces his actions through Twitter to becoming a model of “millennial authoritarianism,” using the military to try and rein in an opposition-led Congress back in February.
When it comes to trying to control the spread of the coronavirus, the 37-year old leader had issued a series of executive orders, ruled as unconstitutional and illegal by the Supreme Court late last week. This ruling, set to become effective August 24, is what has led the bishops to announce churches will reopen for public services on the last Sunday of the month.
August 17 was the date chosen for some 200 Catholic parishes in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, to resume liturgical services with the presence of the faithful. The decision was announced by the archdiocese, that sent a letter to the priests saying that, after five months, Masses, funerals, and baptisms could resume.
Yet the date was not set in stone: It was up to each parish priest to send a guarantee that they could, in fact, uphold the safety protocols in place to protect the faithful from contracting the virus while at Mass.
6,083 people had died of COVID-19 in Ecuador, with 102,000 cases reported.
The sacraments of marriage and baptism are also once again being allowed – weddings will resume on Saturdays, baptisms on Sundays. For weddings, the presence of no more than 25 people is allowed, and the ceremony cannot be longer than 30 minutes. All the pre-wedding formation will be done online.
In the case of baptism, the ceremony cannot last for more than 20 minutes, and no more than two children – or young people – will be welcomed into the Catholic Church at the same time.
If more than one sacrament is to be held on the same day, there must be enough time between the ceremonies to prevent social gatherings and celebrations outside the parish’ doors.
For funerals, only 25 mourners are allowed — regardless of the size of the church — and the ceremony will run for no longer than half an hour. The coffin must be sealed, unless the person died of coronavirus, in which case, the funeral will only be celebrated if the body has been cremated.
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