GABON: Religious Leaders Clash with State on Reopening of Public Worship


LIBREVILLE, OCTOBER 30, 2020 (CISA) -Religious leaders in Gabon have clashed over “restrictions deemed far too severe for poor families,” as the country commences reopening of places of worship.

“We find very difficult the measure calling on our faithful to present a negative COVID test, which now costs money and risks creating discrimination between the less well-off and those who have greater means,” the clerics said in a joint statement.

An announcement by Episcopal Conference of Gabon on reopening churches on October 25 was delayed to October 30 by the government as it issued tight restrictions on public worship. What followed were protests against the new rules by the faithful. Protesters complained that shops, schools and other institutions were being permitted to operate without comparable restrictions.

“We, your bishops, will celebrate the passion of the Lord as a great penitential act in each of our cathedrals with the rite of opening the door to implore God’s mercy on our nation,” the bishops said.

Archbishop Jean Patrick Iba Ba of Libreville encouraged local churches to proceed with the October 25 reopening asking the priests not to celebrate Mass instead, “…welcome the faithful in each parish, recite about ten Hail Marys, proclaim the Gospel … and dismiss the people by blessing them with the Blessed Sacrament.”

“With the soldiers who surround us and the armored vehicles deployed on church ground, it’s clear that the Church in Gabon is a persecuted church,” he said on Sunday 25.

The authorities barricaded Archbishop Iba Ba’s residence andnearby roads and churches, arrested two priests in the diocese and used teargas on parishioners.

Bishop Jean-Vincent Ondo Eyene of Oyem and his fellow clergy were reportedly attacked by soldiers as they concluded Eucharistic adoration at St Charles Lwanga Cathedral.

“The bishop was roughed up to force him to let go of the Blessed Sacrament and priests were beaten,” La Croix Africa reported.

Bishop Ondo Eyene had reportedly blessed the soldiers with the Blessed Sacrament at the end of the adoration.