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May 19, 2020

Limited Congregation Size Forces Churches to Remain Closed

Since the start of the state of emergency, the churches have been meeting online for services to prevent any contagion of the novel coronavirus.  Stay-at-home orders, the cap on gatherings of no more than ten persons as well as social distancing mean that for now, church pews cannot be filled by church goers. The ease of S.O.E. restrictions, however, has triggered debate among the faithful. There is an outcry that public transportation can now operate even though social distancing guidelines as well as the limit on the number of persons on buses are not in practice. But churches are still not allowed to open their doors wide enough to fellowship. News Five’s Isani Cayetano has the perspective of the Catholic Church.


Fr. Noel Leslie, St. Joseph Church

“The church is over two thousand years old which means the church has been through many storms, many storms before and trials an she has weathered them.  And so we have been able to deal with these issues realizing that it’s for our own good and we have been able to make sacrifices.”


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Across the country, churches and other places of communal worship have been all but abandoned.  It’s not that parishioners aren’t eager to return to daily or weekly service, but certain limitations on crowd sizes would essentially force celebrants to become selective of their congregation.  Amid these COVID times, social distancing is very important, however, implementation should also be rational and proportionate.


Michael Peyrefitte

Michael Peyrefitte, Attorney General

“There will be a church or place of public worship in any facility or public place which involves the participation of any member of the general public or a congregation is allowed to congregate under the following conditions: nuh care how big the church, it can’t have more than ten people.  So your church could be the size of the Civic yoh still cyant have no more than ten people.”


In the context of social distancing, physical space among persons in a queue, open space or an enclosed environment must be maintained at all times.  The requirement as it stands is for no less than six feet.  At Novelo’s Bus Terminal this morning, passengers onboard a commuter bus headed out of Belize City to other parts of the country, each seated less than six feet apart in either direction.  That is now acceptable providing that face mask is worn at all times.  Here at St. Joseph Parish the pews remain empty because Father Noel Leslie is only allowed to administer to a flock of only ten.


Noel Leslie

Fr. Noel Leslie

“I saw that number as being too limited and I did consult with some of my parishioners about the whole matter and some said, “You know what, just continue to live stream the masses and not have the weekday Mass that we would normally have because it would create a bit of confusion about who should be invited and so forth.  So I believe that actually it should have been where depending on the size of your structure.  If you have a small structure then you use your wisdom and say okay, we’d only allow so many people.  The government can lay down the regulations concerning that, about how many people depending on the size of your structure.  If you have a large building, again you don’t want to have large numbers but a reasonable amount of people could have been invited to come and participate, say like fifty or sixty and they will be spaced out, practicing social distancing, wearing their masks and so forth.”


In most parishes, the Catholic Church in particular, attendance at Mass has been suspended since mid-March.  With the gradual relaxation of the state of emergency, we’ve seen where other facilities have been opened up with guidelines to be adhered.  The church, in the opinion of many, should have been given similar directions.


Michael Peyrefitte

“Remember we said for the shops, the amount of people who could go into the shops depends on the size of the shop, not in this case.  Noh care how big di church big, no more than ten people and if your church that small and cyant hold ten people so that they can be one Peyrefitte apart then you cyant hold ten people because the social distancing laws and the protocols would trump anything that these allow you to do.”


Social distancing, for all intents and purposes, is an exercise in basic math, calculating the space between persons in a given area.  In observing the empty church, the pews can be calculated to reflect the distance each congregant would be away from his nearest neighbor.  This can easily go up to sixty or seventy persons.


Fr. Noel Leslie

“The way it is right now, you have a restaurant which is an enclosed structure, and some are open of course, and you have buses and so forth and again you allow so many people in those and in this enclosed places whereas in our churches the windows are wide open and everything else, the doors are wide open.  Some of us have our auditoriums and so forth, we could have chosen to use our auditoriums for worship and our people would have been quite flexible to be ready to use such facilities.  So yes, I believe that the numbers could have been increased depending on the size of the structure that you have.”


As a result of COVID-19, certain key features of the Mass have also been foregone, including the sign of peace, as well as the Holy Communion.  The Church, for the time being, has been forced to adapt to the changes brought about by the coronavirus pandemic and while it is represented on the National Oversight Committee it begs the question of whether these decisions were made rationally.


Michael Peyrefitte

“Noh vex wid we yoh noh because di church people dehn siddown pan di National Oversight Committee, so this is what was agreed to.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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