Govt will not impose any restrictions on church services
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — At a cabinet meeting last Friday morning with local church leaders, who were briefed on American Samoa’s response and action to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga declared that the government has no intention of prohibiting church services, which will be left up to leaders of religious denominations to make the final decision.
Last Friday, Bishop Peter Brown, leader of the Catholic Diocese of Samoa Pago Pago issued a decree which outlines measures the church is taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — it includes cancelling of all Sunday masses — effective today — until further notice.
CHURCH LEADERS MEETING
Lolo called the meeting with leaders of the territory’s religious denominations to brief and update them on ASG’s response and action plan to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The governor, who addressed the meeting via teleconference call from the Maugaoali’i government house, explained that he is under a 14-day home quarantine, as required by local restrictions, until Thursday this week.
Lolo said the meeting was called to update and brief church leaders on the latest move by the government, which becomes effective today, Mar. 23rd, with the new three color-coded threat level. He said these efforts are in response to the COVID-19, which now has a global impact.
The governor gave a summary of each of the three threat levels and his staff later distributed the printed documents to church leaders.
Among the new restrictions, effective today, is the banning of large public gatherings, said Lolo, who noted however that the government has no intention of prohibiting Sunday church services — that will be left up to leaders of denominations to decide.
The governor did ask for support by all churches in combating the spread of the virus, when it comes to youth gatherings and other similar events, where a large number of people would be in attendance. He suggested cancelling these types of events.
CLOSED INTER-SAMOA ROUTE
Lolo also shared that he was informed last Friday morning that the Samoa government had issued a State of Emergency Declaration, which includes the suspension of all flights between Samoa and American Samoa.
Samoa’s declaration became effective at 12:01a.m. Mar. 21st in Samoa (Mar. 20th in American Samoa.) An amended declaration was issued over the weekend, closing flights between Samoa and Australia, further reducing flights between Samoa and New Zealand, and keeping in place the ban on inter-Samoa flights.
According to the governor, he received a call Friday morning from the President of Kanana Fou saying that 10 church ministers are now stranded in Samoa and requested his assistance. (Lolo didn’t mention by name the president of Kanana Fou or which institution at Kanana Fou to which he was referring.)
Lolo said, his response to the caller was that the action taken by Samoa is that government’s decision and that American Samoa had kept the inter-Samoa route open due to the close-ties between the two Samoas.
He said his office remains in communication with the Samoa government on this matter to allow the re-opening of the inter Samoa route so that stranded American Samoa residents can return home.
According to Radio New Zealand Pacific, American Samoa’s request was made to Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who has since referred it to his government’s Disaster Advisory Committee.
Samoa News notes that suspension of inter Samoa flights means also the suspension of flights between Tutuila and the Manu’a islands, that are currently operated by the Samoa government owned Samoa Airways. (Read story in today's issue about two emergency flights to uplift stranded American Samoans.)
Through his Diocesan Decree issued last Friday, Bishop Brown, declared the “Catholic Response to the American Samoa Coronavirus”.
“We are called by our Government and our Church to act in a responsible manner to ensure the protection of our parishioners and families especially the elderly in our communities, brought upon us by this virus that is sweeping across the world,” Bishop Brown said. “The only method that we have is isolate our community.”
According to the decree, which is effective Mar. 23rd, addressed to parish priests, deacons, catechists and community leaders, “All Sunday masses are hereby cancelled until further notice”; however, “small weekday masses may continue if physical distancing (3ft, no contact) is practiced.”
“The Holy Father Pope Francis has given a general dispensation to all Catholics from the obligation to attend Sunday mass until further notice,” the decree states.
It also says that “all large” mass Parish gatherings are banned - i.e., bingo, large birthday celebrations, family reunions etc. “All funerals are to be celebrated only with the priest on the day and the immediate family with no other gatherings or faasamoa,” it says.
• Lenten group reconciliation services are cancelled. Individual reconciliation permitted as normal
• Visitation or Administration of the Sacrament of the Sick is permitted but must wear mask etc to protect the elderly.
The decree also outlined changes to religious services carried out during a two-week period leading up to Easter Sunday, which this year falls on Apr. 12th. Among the changes is that Parish Palm Sunday Mass and Procession on April 5th is cancelled.
For Easter Sunday service, it’s one service only at the Cathedral, with no congregation and no choir — only all Priests of the Diocese, Selected Deacons and Selected Catechists.
In a message posted on the Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa (CCCAS) website (efkasonline.org) on COVID-19, the CCCAS General Secretary, Nafatali Falealii announced that, “As of now, all major Youth and Women’s gatherings that are scheduled in the next 2 months are to be postponed.”
“If gathering is necessary — Sunday worship — refrain from handshaking, hugging, and welcoming by kiss,” it says. “Make sure to always use hand sanitizers or have them available in the church for all to use. If you feel sick or exhibit any symptoms of the virus, please stay home and see a doctor immediately.”
It also outlined other measures that all member churches may need to consider for their protection.
Falealii points out that some of the COVID-19 affected areas in the world are areas where CCCAS member churches are located — New Zealand, Australia, and in the US are California, Oregon, Nevada, Washington State, etc.
“Even now, the virus is slowly making its way towards the Pacific and it is only a matter of time before it reaches... American Samoa. Let us keep each others in our prayers,” Falealii said, who also provided an update status of the CCCAS Conference — Fono Tele — in July this year at Kanana Fou.
At this time, Falealii said, the CCCAS general assembly board continues to monitor the COVID-19 situation and sometime next month a decision will be made on whether or not the conference will proceed as scheduled.
CCCAS leaders encouraged all its member churches to check on its website on the latest update on the Fono Tele, as well as the CCCAS COVID-19 page.