Faith communities join the fight against spread of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted regular debate in the House of Commons.

By Bryan Dryden, Canadian Catholic News

[Ottawa – CNN) – Faith communities in Canada are being asked to make sacrifices in how they practice their faith in the national battle to control the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, and for the most part they are willingly making the necessary adjustments such as cancelling large masses and closing mosques to help in the national effort.

The Catholic Church in Canada, through the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), has issued a statement calling on Catholics to heed public health directives when it comes to stopping the spread of COVID-19, and Catholic and other faith communities in the country have been making adjustments to how they practice their faith in light of public health officials asking Canadians not to attend large public gatherings.

That request has seen many faith communities curtail activities within churches and mosques and other religious spaces. In Ontario, where the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been recorded, public masses on Sunday, March 15, at Catholic churches in the two largest dioceses in the province (Toronto and Ottawa) were cancelled after the provincial health officer asked that all gatherings of more than 250 people in the province not be held.

Philip Horgan, an Ontario-based lawyer and president of the Catholic Civil Rights League, said that these are unprecedented times as countries across the globe try to staunch the spread of COVID-19 and that it is only natural that faith communities such as the Catholic Church in Canada would play its part in helping snuff out the spread of the virus.

“In the current environment all of the intentions of the limits on large gatherings is to decrease the increasing onslaught of disease,” Horgan said, adding concerns about religious freedom in light of government and public health requests that Canadians don’t attend large gatherings are not warranted at this time.

“There are other ways that people can practice their faith and churches will have to adjust as this situation goes on,” he said.

“Cities have fire regulations about how many people can be in a building and churches of course follow those regulations,” Horgan said. “This is not some effort on the part of government to deny people their right to worship.”

While Horgan is hopeful that calling on Canadians to practice “social distancing” and not to gather in large numbers will be a short-lived inconvenience for Catholics and other Canadian faith communities, he suggests that this may be the new normal in the daily lives of Canadians for months to come.

“I have a suspicion that we are going to be facing this issue for six to 12 months. This is not something that you do for a couple of weeks and then the virus goes away,” he said.

Although governments, at the federal and provincial levels, have not instituted punitive measures to ensure Canadians do not gather in public like some other countries such as Italy and Spain have in Europe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on Canadians to work together and make sacrifices for the common good at a press conference in front of his home in Ottawa on March 16, where he has been in isolation ever since his wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau was tested and found to have COVID-19.

“All Canadians, as much as possible, should stay at home,” Trudeau said as he announced further measures being taken by the federal government to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Those new measures include a new ban on all non-Canadians except for Americans from entering Canada at this time. He did not rule out Americans being banned from entering the country in the future if the spread of COVID-19 in Canada continues at a rapid pace.

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said during a press conference on March 15 that all Canadians must make changes to how they behave and interact in public if the country is going to suppress the spread of COVID-19, which has killed thousands across the globe and is especially dangerous to the health of the elderly and people with ongoing existing health issues.

While the number of cases confirmed in Canada is relatively low compared to many countries in Europe, China and Iran, the areas of the world hardest hit by COVID-19 so far, Dr. Tam said the number of cases in Canada is “rapidly increasing” and “our window to flatten the curve of the epidemic is narrow.”

“COVID-19 is a serious public health threat,” she said.