Church in Latin America prepares for COVID Christmas

Church in Latin America prepares for COVID Christmas

In this April 3, 2016 photo, teens pose atop the Montevideo sign at Pocitos Beach, Uruguay. The South American country has a long tradition of secularism, so when the Catholic Church recently proposed erecting a statue of the Virgin Mary in a park next to a popular promenade, a debate erupted over whether religious symbols in public places violate the separation between church and state. (Credit: Matilde Campodonico/AP.)

As Latin America enters the Christmas season, Church leaders are urging reconciliation and solidarity as the region suffers through the COVID-19 pandemic.

ROSARIO, Argentina — As Latin America enters the Christmas season, Church leaders are urging reconciliation and solidarity as the region suffers through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Colombia

Archbishop Luis José Rueda Aparicio of Bogota, Colombia’s capital, called on Colombians to “give it all for reconciliation and peace,” during an interview with Noticias Caracol aired Monday, where the central issue was the upcoming Christmas celebration.

“Christmas will be celebrated with safety protocols, while allowing us all to celebrate in our homes and in the parishes with small groups and with great care,” said Rueda Aparicio, highlighting that the holy day will be marked within the framework of the government regulations and in accordance with capacity limits imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“Christmas celebrations in Bogotá and throughout Colombia are traditionally lived with a large participation of children, youth and adults, in churches, and with large family gatherings, but this year it will not be so,” he said. “Responsibility for life requires us to be creative and celebrate in a different way.”

This means that the Christmas liturgies will be celebrated and broadcasted on TV so that the faithful can participate from their homes.

Churches will be open, and people able to participate in Mass, but both the country’s bishops and the laity are aware of the necessity to avoid crowds in a country where over 40,000 people have died from COVID-19.

Taking stock of 2020, the prelate said that the country is suffering not only due to COVID-19, but also the country’s general situation, still marred by violence despite the end of its civil war two years ago.

“We thought we were going to have a more positive outlook in respect of the lives of Colombians and of the leaders who accompany the people,” he said. “However, there are many signs of violence.”

Rueda Aparicio called on the country to risk everything for peace, while highlighting the role of social leaders who are dying as “martyrs of reconciliation.”

According to the bishop, social leaders in Colombia are being killed because “anyone who works for peace and makes a proposal for life is uncomfortable, so what they want is to fill Colombians with fear.”

Human life in Colombia continues to be threatened by violence, the archbishop said, with at least 250 social leaders killed in 2020.

“Here is a cry from the regions that calls for social reconciliation, which requires the commitment of all social sectors. We must promote a humanitarian pact for life, justice, reconciliation, truth and the dialogue resolution of conflicts,” the archbishop said.

Asked about the causes of these killings, Rueda Aparicio blamed “the tyranny of the economy over life, corrupt and anarchist ethics, predatory anti-culture, social indifference, the politics of hatred and of hypocrisy.”

Speaking about the 25 Catholic priests in Bogota whose deaths have been attributed to COVID-19, Rueda Aparicio said that priests in general had “remained close to their communities, sharing their joys and sorrows, with a new rhythm in missionary action, but without abandoning their communities. Death has found many of them there, working and praying.”

Honduras

The bishops’ conference of Honduras released its Christmas message on Dec. 16, reflecting not only on the impact of the pandemic in the country, but also on tropical storms Eta and Iota, that severely affected the country in November.

Tens of thousands lost their homes, and the storms caused severe flooding, landslides and billions of dollars in damage. Moreover, the pandemic has delayed reconstruction efforts.

“What we’ve lived in these months of pandemic has made evident, once more, the fragility of our health system … and make visible deep and wounding inequalities.”

God, they said, urges the people of Honduras to face these deficiencies, and that guaranteeing access to COVID-19 vaccines is not enough: “we must promote a profound and permanent change in public health.”

Lastly, they called on the people of Honduras to be careful not to spread the virus during the Christmas season, and also not to forget the real meaning of the celebration: “God is with us in each home and family. Let’s pray as families, as we did during Easter. Let’s take advantage of the Christmas octave to attend Mass without crowds.”

Uruguay

The Catholic Church in Uruguay has suspended public liturgies until Jan. 10 in conformity with government efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The decision came after a meeting with government officials, that included not only Cardinal Daniel Sturla of Montevideo, but also leaders of other religions.

“It’s with great sorrow that the bishops of Uruguay accept the request that the government has addressed to the various religious communities to suspend the celebrations in the presence of the faithful until Jan. 10. The churches will remain open [for private prayer], and the celebrations will be broadcasted on social media and TV,” the bishops said.

The decision comes despite the fact that there have been no known spread of COVID-19 at Mass, which resumed with the presence of the faithful on June 19.

“As Christmas approaches, this decision is doubly painful. As a Church, we had already suspended a series of activities, among others, camps, youth missions and visits to neighborhoods,” says the bishops’ statement. “In accepting this request, we are aware of the affliction of many faithful who will not be able to participate directly in the worship of the living God.”

The statement also comes with a warning from the prelates, who write that religious freedom is a “right enshrined in our Constitution.”

“We are confident that we will continue to care for each other and that with God’s help we will soon be able to come out of this situation and celebrate our faith in community once again,” they wrote.

The pandemic has been mostly under control in Uruguay, with 13,000 positive cases and 119 deaths. However, the numbers are rapidly growing, and the have been closed by the government as a precaution.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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