Congo: Fear of Ebola Keeps the Faithful at Home in Congo



KAMPALA, Uganda (RNS) – Thousands of faithful in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are staying home from church services to avoid contracting or spreading Ebola.

“We are staying in our homes. We can’t go to church and worship together as Christians,” said Daniel Sango, who spoke to Religion News Service by phone from Mangina, 24 miles southwest of the town of Beni in North Kivu. “People are afraid of contracting the virus. Many are listening to the gospel of God on radio stations.”

Thousands of churches remain closed in the country’s eastern regions as the Ebola virus continues to spread. Since August, when the latest outbreak was declared in eastern Congo, 137 confirmed or probable cases have been registered, including 92 deaths, according to the country’s health officials.

In a bid to contain the virus, religious leaders and officials have urged residents not to meet in big numbers.

Earlier this year, three Ebola patients left a treatment center in the northwestern city of Mbandaka and attended a church service, where they came into contact with other congregants. The three patients were later found dead in their homes.

“People should not meet in big number either in church or elsewhere,” said pastor Sarah Kalenga of the Church of Jesus Christ in a telephone interview from Mangina. “We are finding ways to end the spread of the virus. People should pray from their houses and God will answer those prayers. We are trusting in God, but we should not tempt him.”

Ebola, which is spread through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of those infected, is highly contagious and can kill within days. The virus returned to Congo only days after a previous outbreak that killed 29 people was declared over in July. 

Two new cases were reported in Butembo last week, according to UNICEF.

“Butembo is an important commercial city and has nearly one million inhabitants. So there is a real risk the virus could spread quickly in such a large population center,” Gianfranco Rotigliano, UNICEF representative, said in a statement last week. “The number of confirmed Ebola cases in Butembo remains limited, but we have to ensure that everything is being done now to ensure that the outbreak is controlled at this early stage.”

Religious leaders in May suspended sacraments during the Ebola outbreak to help protect worshippers from contracting the disease.

“Although Masses are continuing, sacraments such as baptism and confirmation have had to be suspended,” Monsignor Jean-Marie Bomengola, secretary of the church’s Social Communications Commission, told Catholic News Service during the summer.

The Rev. Lucien Ambunga, a Catholic pastor, was quarantined after being infected with Ebola in Mbandaka town. The priest survived after being taken to a treatment center in Bikoro, a small town in northwestern Congo. The government said the priest became infected while praying as he placed his hands on an Ebola patient in his parish.

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