The top Catholic religious authority in Goa, Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao, on Wednesday, announced stringent rules, while rolling out a formal protocol for re-opening of Churches in the state.
In a circular issued to all parishes in the state, Ferrao advised caution in the process of re-opening of Churches for religious services, laying down rules which include social distancing, availability of hand sanitisers, sanitisation of Church premises and using non-contact thermometers to examine visitors.
"The priest in charge is to make sure that thorough cleanliness and disinfection of the sacred place and of the surrounding premises have been carried out and can be assured to be undertaken regularly. The place of worship is well ventilated. The seating arrangement with physical distancing of six feet is marked out," the advisory states.
"Hand sanitizers should be available for the use of the faithful. A contactless thermometer is in place to check the body temperature of those who enter. Holy water stoups or fonts are kept dry," it further adds, requesting priests to keep volunteers ready to ensure maintenance of social distancing and hygiene norms.
Churches located in containment or buffer zones identified by the state administration will however not be allowed to open.
To seek permission for re-opening of the Churches, which have been closed for public worship since the enforcement of the lockdown in March, the local parish priest would have to first write to the Archbishop.
"On receipt of the petition, the Diocesan Authority will send his delegate for an on-site inspection and will grant the requested permission only if he is satisfied that the church/chapel/shrine can in fact comply with all the requirements," Ferrao says in his advisory.
"The places of worship should not be opened to the faithful before this permission is granted in writing. The time required to comply with the safety protocols may vary from place to place," it also states.
Other Church-related activity such as meetings of allied groups, associations, community devotional practices and retreats continue to remain suspended.
"Catechesis and faith-formation programmes for children and adults that require them to gather are to be deferred till further instructions, Ferrao also said.
Around 26 per cent of Goa's 1.5 million population is Catholic.
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