by WELLINGTON TONI
HARARE, (ITNews Zimbabwe) – AMID the coronavirus (COVI-19) wreaking havoc across the globe, governments have responded with lockdowns and bans on large gatherings.
In all likelihood, the annual Easter congregations will be cancelled this year.
Easter, one of the most significant periods in the Christian calendar, is scheduled to begin this (Good) Friday until Monday.
Preparations for the festivities have passed unnoticeable as the world reels from a deadly outbreak of the virus that has infected more than 1 million individuals and claimed tens of thousands of lives since the beginning of the year.
Ahead of Easter, mass gatherings have been cancelled across the world in a bid to stop the spread of the virus.
Governments, including the Zimbabwean administration, have restricted some gatherings to 50 people, down from 100.
The second largest city of Bulawayo has gone a step further by reducing the maximum to 30 people.
These numbers are a far cry of crowds that throng places of worship during Easter.
Under these circumstances, churches have turned to digital media to reach out to their audiences to ensure they do not miss out on the gospel especially during these distressing times.
The Roman Catholic has led the way in turning to digital media by live streaming its Easter programme to its more than 2 billion followers across the world.
Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, marked Palm Sunday with a broadcast on YouTube while various other services were staged via Facebook.
Palm Sunday is the Sunday preceding the Easter weekend.
The United Families International Church (UFIC), one of the biggest Pentecostal churches in Zimbabwe has developed an application that church members download to access various services. It has developed the OrelPlus application for download.
“It can be downloaded on the (Google) Play Store and installed into one’s mobile gadget,” Tinashe Mangwanya, a member of the church’s communications department, said in an interview.
There is a monthly subscription of Z$250.
Subscribers can access sermons, daily devotions as well as buy sermons and music.
Prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa leads the UFIC.
On Thursday, the prophet’s sermon was broadcast on his Facebook page.
On Palm Sunday he again preached through the social media platform, running a sermon under the theme, Gloves Off.
Other churches including Anglican Church, Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM), Zimbabwe Assemblies of God Africa (ZAOGA) Forward In Faith and the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) have also embraced technology.
Many Pentecostal churches rely on tithes for survival. Thus, such electronic payment offerings such as Ecocash, Telecash, OneMoney and Zipit have come in handy.
Fr Frederick Chiromba, Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference (ZCBC) secretary general, said it was imperative that those without access to technology were not left out.
“The Catholic Church has very active small Christian communities (SCC) in the rural areas. They have mechanisms for bible sharing which they can utilise without being dependent on technology,” Fr Chiromba said.
He said the Catholic Church complemented measures by the government to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Zimbabwe is on a 21-day lockdown that began last Monday. Nine cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed. A single death has been recorded. Statistics are as of this past weekend.
“We are working in line with the declarations by the President (Emmerson Mnangagwa). We encourage all faithfuls (believers) to wash their hands with soap regularly or use hand sanitizers as frequently as possible,” Fr Chiromba advised.
The Catholic Church has suspended the blessing by placing of hands and the sign of peace during the Holy Mass.
“The reception of the Holy Communion must be on the hand and not on the mouth,” Fr Chiromba told ITNews Zimbabwe.
Christianity is the dominant religion in Zimbabwe, a country of 14,8 million.
According to the 2017 Inter Censal Demography Survey by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency, 84.1 percent follow one of the denominations of Christianity.