Abu Dhabi, 4 March 2020
To all Priests, Religious, and Lay Faithful of the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
May the Lord give you peace!
The threat of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has prompted many governments, institutions and dioceses to issue precautionary guidelines as this virus has rapidly spread to many countries around the world.
The UAE Govt. authorities are taking timely and effective precautions to greatly minimize the risk of the spread of the virus. There is, therefore, no need for us to be unduly alarmed or panic.
At the same time, it is good for us to follow the example of the civil authorities in taking certain precautions to limit the risks. This is also necessary because of our unique situation as a migrant Church, with faithful moving in and out of the country for professional or personal reasons.
Therefore, I have decided to issue the following guidelines to be observed in all our churches. These guidelines take effect from Friday, 6 March 2020 and will be effective until 2 April 2020. Before Palm Sunday we will re-evaluate them according to the
local situation and the advice of the competent civil authorities, and extend or update them as necessary.
1. People with serious colds or other illness are advised to stay at home.
2. The faithful are to be advised to maintain personal hygiene, especially around coughing or sneezing. Hand sanitizers may be made available.
3. The recommendations of the authorities with regard to the cleaning of schools and public places should be followed. Disinfectants should be used for all cleaning purposes (special attention to washrooms, doors and other frequently touched surfaces).
4. The Holy Water fonts at the church entrance should be emptied.
5. Holy Communion will be received in the hand. The faithful should be instructed on the proper way to receive. It is recommended that Communion Ministers use hand-sanitizers to clean their hands before distributing Holy Communion.
6. In language Masses where the Sign of Peace is exchanged by touching hands, this is to be replaced by a bow of the head as is common at most other Masses.
7. Catechism classes will be suspended for the duration of the closure of private schools according to governmental guidelines (currently for one month from 8 March 2020).
8. Approval of the Bishop should be sought for:
- Organizing group pilgrimages to churches or to holy sites
- National and international meetings of church groups
- Organized group visits to the different churches of our Vicariate, as is common during Lent and Holy Week. It is recommended that such group visits be discouraged for the moment, and other ways of meeting the devotion of the people be offered by those with pastoral responsibility.
Further developments may prompt more stringent measures but for the time being Masses and other group activities are to be carried out as usual, observing due prudence and necessary precautions.
The current situation is a time for us as Catholics to give an example of faith, hope and charity in the midst of anxiety and uncertainty, especially through our Lenten practices. I recommend the intention for the end of the coronavirus and for all those affected to our public prayers (e.g. Rosary, Holy Hours, etc.) as well as to your personal prayers, self-denial and charity this Lent.
Let us pray, as we do at every Mass, for the protection and peace of the Lord,
"Deliver us, Lord, we pray from every evil,
graciously grant peace in our day,
that by the help of your mercy,
we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress,
as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ."
+ Paul Hinder OFM Cap.
Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia