Coronavirus: worshippers urged to pray from home and watch services online

Mosques, churches and temples will cease public prayers for a month to prevent the spread of Covid-19

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 4, 2020.  Father Reinhold Sahner with the newly installed hand sanitisers at the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church.
Victor Besa / The National
Section:  NA
Reporter: Patrick Ryan
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Religious worshippers across the UAE have been asked to pray from home after mosques, temples and churches temporarily suspended public prayers due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The UAE announced on March 16 that all places of worship would be closed for the next four weeks.

However, religious leaders have said prayers should continue from home.

A spokesman for the UAE General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments (Awqaf) said the suspension includes Friday prayers, but the possibility of live online streaming of services was being considered.

The Adhan, call for prayer, will continue to be played on time and it will be followed by an announcement to "pray in your homes,” which will be repeated twice.

Facilities at mosques, such as washrooms and drinking-water fountains would also be closed.

He said the four-week period was subject to extension.

Father Reinhold Sahner, Parish Priest at St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Dubai’s Jebel Ali, said it was vital that prayers were continued to be said, especially during the holy week of Easter – which starts Sunday, April 5.

“Physical prayer can still continue from the privacy of home,” he said.

“We will still be on hand to offer support via email and phone, which we have already been doing.

“We are still going to be connected.”

Father Sahner said Masses were still being said daily at the church with five priests and seven staff members, who lived in the church premises.

“Each time we say Mass we are praying for the entire congregation,” he said.

“One way to look at it is that it’s an extreme form of spiritual fasting over the Lent period.”

Physical prayer can still continue from the privacy of home

Around 20,000 people usually attend the various Masses in the parish on the weekend whereas 500-600 worshippers visit the church during weekdays.

“Prayer is not just about going to church or when you receive the Holy Communion,” Father Sahner said.

A number of churches across the region are also screening live Mass services online.

Bishop Paul Hinder posted an open letter to Catholics in the region, on March 17, informing them of the closures and the importance of continuing to pray.

“For many of you who are faithfully attending Mass weekly or even daily, this ‘Eucharistic fast’ that we are called to make is a great sacrifice,” he said in the letter.

“Please be assured that the Holy Eucharist will still be celebrated daily by the bishop and the priests for each one of you in our parishes.

“During this extraordinary time of the pandemic, you are dispensed from the Sunday and Holy week’s obligation.”

He added that worshippers should stay connected with their parishes online.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Kelly Clark: A gentleman cleans at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church. Churches suspend mass gatherings and increase cleaning operations. Thursday, March 12th, 2020. Jebel Ali, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“Although you cannot be present physically, you can be present spiritually at the Eucharist,” he said.

“I would also like to invite each one of you to follow (Mass services) via the electronic media, which will be made available on the respective parish websites.”

Worshippers at the nearby Guru Nanak Darbar Sikh temple in Jebel Ali were also asked to keep the faith during the four-week shutdown.

“People can continue to keep praying in their own homes,” said Surender Singh Kandhari, chairman of the temple.

“At the end of the day God is not just found in a temple, God is in the heart, in fact God is everywhere.”

Mr Kandhari also said every effort would be made to ensure the temple was thoroughly cleaned and sanitised so it was fully ready to reopen for worshippers when the ban is lifted.

The spokesman for Awqaf added that funeral prayers will be performed at graveyards instead of mosques.

Only the deceased's family and friends are allowed to attend