Kerala priests don't want shrines to open, say peak of Covid-19 yet to come

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The Kerala government may have given the go ahead to open the places of worship from June 9, but many shrines, mosques and churches are having second thoughts about it.

Two prominent mosques in Kerala - Palayam Juma Masjid in Thiruvananthapuram and Muhiyuddhin Mosque in Kozhikode in north Kerala - have already decided to defer opening. And now, other shrines are also following suit.

Several priests and believers of the Angamally-Ernakulam diocese, richest Catholic diocese in the country, have opposed opening of shrines in hurry. They cite the warning of medical experts to buttress their point.

“Experts say peak of infection is yet to come. In Hinduism, a devotee worships his favourite God by offering prayers to the deity directly. But in Christianity, it is communitarian way of worship with clergy doing a lot of prayers with talking,” said senior priest and former spokesman of the Syro-Malabar church Father Paul Thelekkat.

He said the holy mass is complete only when the communion is consumed by believers. “In the current situation it is not impossible as the government banned distribution of offerings and holy water in all shrines,” he said adding that the safety of the believers is more important than opening of shrines.

The church is facing another problem - at least 70 per cent of the clergy have crossed 65 years of age. According to the directive of the government, children below 10 and people above 65 years should not be exposed to the marauding virus as they are soft targets.

“We have quickly trained some young priests to conduct services including Holy Communion. At least 70 per cent of our priests are above 65. How can we keep them out? It will be a disservice to them,” said a senior priest who did not want to be quoted.

Cardinal Mar Baselois Cleemis has urged the government to allow people of all ages to come to church when all sectors have opened up. “It is unfair to put a cap on aged people. It is quite unfair when all other sectors like malls, liquor outlets and hotels opened up. We are ready to make special arrangements for people who crossed 65 as they need religious places most now,” said Cleemis (61), youngest cardinal of the country. (Usually Cardinals select the supreme head of the Catholic church, Pope).

Earlier, many religious heads had written to the government to open shrines saying it left a spiritual and emotional vacuum among the faithful. But now, many are having second thoughts after witnessing a surge in the Covid-19 cases. Kerala has recorded 1,807 cases of Covid-19. Out of this, more than 1,000 are active cases. The state has reported 16 deaths due to the disease so far.

“Our prime concern is safety of people. Since the disease is spreading at a higher rate, the time is not ideal. It is difficult to keep a tab on people, especially during Friday prayers. So we have decided to wait for some more time,” said Palayam mosque Imam V P Suhaib. The Kerala chapter of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), which strongly opposed opening of shrines, has lauded the bold initiatives of some shrines. All Hindu shrines are under respective dewasom boards being controlled by the government. Two major temples, Sabarimala and Guruvayur, have decided ‘darshan’ only though virtual queues.

“We all are believers. But we are in a war. It is not time to take chances. More than anyone else we feel religious leaders have a bigger role to protect believers,” said medical activist and senior doctor Sulfi M Noohu.

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