THE Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Most Rev Alfred Adewale Martins on Wednesday called on the Lagos State Government to ease the restriction on religious gatherings in the State, arguing that churches are better placed to maintain discipline among their faithful than most other institutions. Reacting to the news making the rounds that the Lagos State Government through its Commissioner for Home Affairs, Mr Anofiu Elegushi, is insisting on continued restriction on religious gatherings, Archbishop Martins wondered why it would seem that there is a conclusion that it is when people gather to worship that coronavirus can be spread while the spread of the virus is suspended when they cluster and huddle together in markets, motor parks and banks.
In a Press Statement released by the Director of Social Communications, Rev. Fr. Anthony Godonu, the Prelate said: “There is no doubt that the COVID-19 Pandemic is real, and we all feel concerned that the numbers are rising. “However, we know also that the virus will be with us for some time and more testing will reveal more infected persons but at the same time the truth is that life must go on. We believe strongly that Churches as institutions are better able to exert control of situations and maintain discipline among their faithful than most other institutions.
“The argument that we can pray in our individual houses and God will hear our prayers is true but it is also true for us as Christians that gathering together to worship is our heritage and practice arising from the Holy Bible. It was in the gathering of the Apostles that the Holy Spirit came down upon them (Acts.2:1); the early Christians gathered together in private homes for prayers and the breaking of the Bread (Acts 2:46) until the numbers became too large to handle in private homes and it became necessary to have Church buildings.
“If Christians were willing to suspend their right to gather in Church buildings for the sake of common good at a time when all gatherings of people were suspended, it is unfair and unjust for government to restrict gatherings for worship when other gatherings are being allowed,” Martins further argued. Continuing, the Catholic prelate said anyone who argues that gathering to worship is not essential as it is to eat and get money from the bank, obviously does not understand the spiritual, emotional, and psychological soothing that Christians get from gathering together to worship.
“In any case, are we saying that it is more dangerous for people to gather to worship than it is to gather for banking and trading or that it is gathering for worship that is responsible for the spread of the virus? If it was the case in some Asian country, that was before awareness was created and precautions began to be taken as we do today.
“We consider the position of Lagos State government before now that it would approve a set of guidelines and monitor adherence to them as being fair and just. The monitoring is even more easily done in Churches than in markets and motor parks or other places where the virus can even be more easily spread,” he maintained.
According to the archbishop, the Lagos State’s “volte face” gives the impression that the position of Christians is considered secondary and of no consequence in the affairs of the state. He maintained that the leadership of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Lagos State presented a set of guidelines for gradual restoration of public worship to government as “our indication of readiness to take all due precautions and submit ourselves to be checked up for compliance.
“I wonder why the Honourable Commissioner did not state that fact but decided to state only the opinion of one imam. If people of other religions are permitted by their religious traditions to worship anywhere convenient and not necessarily in gatherings, that should not be taken as the yardstick by which all other religious traditions should practice their faith,” he argued. Going on further, the Archbishop appealed to Lagos State government to take Religious leaders into confidence and keep in mind that we are partners in ensuring the safety of our people and are as concerned that the virus is contained as government is.
He stated that the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos have gone so far as to prepare her own in-house elaborate guidelines to ensure the safety and well being of our faithful. He prayed for enlightenment of the Holy Spirit that the governor would take the right decision.