Gabon: Protracted closure of churches angers clerics

APA-Libreville (Gabon)

Priests in Gabon, dissatisfied with the closure of their churches for seven months, have demanded that they are reopened against the advice of the state.

The wait is considered long by the country’s church leaders. 

If the government first wants to have all the technical and health guarantees on the evolution of the Covid-19 pandemic to reopen places of worship, the Federation of Charismatic, Pentecostal and Revival Churches called on its members two weeks ago to take action from Sunday, September 27. 

This is a unilateral decision "that sounds to the public opinion as a challenge to public authority," Interior Minister Lambert Noel Matha told a news conference on Saturday.

All churches remained closed after this thinly veiled threat from the minister except Bethsaida, led by the president of the pastors' collective, Archbishop Jean Baptiste Moulacka. 

Arrested at around 12:00 p.m., he was taken to the police station where he spent about two hours before being released. 

He however, denied having opened the church for any services.

"They freed me because my church was not opened for worship but for cleansing. Besides, we don't worship with five people. There were five worshippers cleaning the church," the bishop told the Gabonactu online newssite.

"I think the police were impressed by the crowd that was already beginning to invade the vicinity of the police station," he added, but dismissed the accusation by the defiance.

"We are victims of injustice because the state has ordered the reopening of markets, hotels and restaurants but remains deaf regarding places of worship," said Jean Baptiste Moulacka, requesting more consideration on the part of the government.

A state of health emergency is still in force in Gabon. 

On Saturday, Minister Lambert Noel Matha announced a one-hour curfew, from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. 

He justified this measure by the fact that the authorities do not want to be won over by the relaxation, despite the reported decline in cases of the new coronavirus. 

As of 27 September, the country has recorded 740 cases after having already reported 8,728 infections, from which 7,934 recoveries and 54 deaths were recorded.

On the other hand, "there is no conflict between the government and religious orders," the minister said, noting that the head of state has asked his government to find ways and means of easing measures for the closure of places of worship.

"The government is working on this and would like to ensure that, given the resurgence of the pandemic elsewhere, the downward trend in contamination observed here is not temporary and misleading," said Lambert Noel Matha.


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