Muslims in Italy wait their turn as government agrees to resume Mass

Italy will lift the ban on public Masses from May 18, as part of an agreement to allow Catholics to attend liturgical celebrations following restrictions due to the coronavirus crisis. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 09 May 2020

Muslims in Italy wait their turn as government agrees to resume Mass

  • All religious services were forbidden by the national lockdown, which was eased earlier this week

ROME: Italy will lift the ban on public Masses from May 18, as part of an agreement to allow Catholics to attend liturgical celebrations following restrictions due to the coronavirus crisis.

The government is also expected to allow those from other faiths, including Muslims and Jews, to gather for their own religious services, though no date has yet been set for the reopening of mosques.

All religious services were forbidden by the national lockdown, whose measures were eased last Monday after nearly two months.



The deal — signed by the president of the Italian Conference of Bishops (CEI), Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese — followed tough negotiations in which Pope Francis intervened, urging Italian Catholics to follow scientists’ advice.

The agreement does not refer to a maximum number of faithful allowed to gather. The parish priest will be in charge of identifying “the maximum capacity of the church building” that can guarantee “compliance with the legislation on social distancing,” it reads.

As is mandatory for all enclosed spaces, congregation members must observe a 1-meter distance between themselves, with volunteers at the entrance — wearing masks and gloves — admitting people one at a time, even if they belong to the same household.

All worshippers will have to wear facemasks while inside the building, as will the priest, who will have to wear gloves too.

Worshippers will be encouraged to wear gloves to take communion, which will be given on the hand rather than in the mouth.

Church buildings will have to be specially cleaned before and after every service. No song or Mass books can be distributed to the congregation, and no choir or groups of musicians will be allowed to accompany the ceremony.

“Even if it’s not required by the new regulations, I’ve already bought a temperature scanner and a machine sanitizing my entire church in 10 minutes,” Father Federico Tartaglia, the parish priest at the Holy Nativity Church in Rome, told Arab News.

“As summer is coming and we have a porch in front of the church, we’ll try to celebrate Mass outside as much as we can,” he added.

“The No. 1 priority is to preserve people’s health, but I’m so happy to say Mass again with my congregation. We’ve been separated for too long because of the lockdown. I hope this will be a new start.”

Bassetti said the deal is “the fruit of a deep collaboration and synergy between the government, the (coronavirus) technical and scientific committee and the CEI, in which each played its part responsibly.” He added that the Church is committed to helping overcome the COVID-19 crisis.

Conte said the agreement will ensure that Masses resume “in the safest way possible,” adding: “I thank the CEI for the moral and material support it is giving the whole national community in this difficult moment for the country.”

Lamorgese said the deal is “an excellent result.” Her ministry was criticized last week after a video, which went viral on social media, showed a policeman interrupting a Mass with only two people in attendance, and shouting at the priest on the altar to “quit and go away.”

The police chief apologized to the priest for the patrol’s “rough manners,” but said it was only enforcing the lockdown legislation.

Lamorgese will now have to work on agreements with other religious communities so they can reopen their places of worship.

She held a videoconference with representatives of all confessions to identify ways to allow rites to resume without risk.

The Union of Islamic Communities in Italy (Ucooi) welcomed the upcoming resumption of Catholic worship.

“We are now waiting to know from the government the date for the reopening of prayer halls and mosques,” it said in a statement, highlighting the “specificity” of the Muslim community now experiencing the “sensitive and particular rituality” of the month of Ramadan.

“Clear answers on the celebration of Eid Al-Fitr on May 24 will be necessary at the soonest. We also hope for a wider collaboration with the local authorities so that outdoor spaces can be used by the communities in the safest way,” the statement added.

Ucooi urged all Muslim communities in Italy to “diligently comply” with the rules outlined in government sanitization protocols, and to respect social distancing during this “transitory phase which we hope can end as soon as possible.”



Kabul begins freeing Taliban

Newly freed Taliban prisoners walk at Pul-e-Charkhi prison, in Kabul, Afghanistan August 13, 2020. Picture taken August 13, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 15 August 2020

Kabul begins freeing Taliban

  • Release of final 400 inmates was approved by traditional Afghan grand assembly

KABUL: After months of delay, Afghanistan’s government has started releasing the last 400 Taliban inmates in its custody, clearing the way for long-awaited peace talks, officials confirmed on Friday.

Eighty of the 400 were set free on Thursday and, according to the government, more will be freed in the coming days. The release was a condition to begin intra-Afghan negotiations to end 19 years of conflict in the war-torn country. The talks, already delayed twice, are expected to take place in Qatar once the release process is complete.
“The release was to speed up efforts for direct talks and a lasting, nationwide cease-fire,” the Afghan National Security Council said in a statement accompanied by video footage showing former Taliban inmates calling on insurgent leaders and the government to engage in peace talks.
The prisoner release follows an agreement signed by the US and the Taliban in Qatar in February that stipulated the exchange of prisoners between President Ashraf Ghani’s government and the militants, who have gained ground in recent years.
The process, involving 5,000 Taliban detainees held by Kabul and 1,000 security forces imprisoned by the militants, was slated to begin in early March and should have been followed by an intra-Afghan dialogue.
Ghani, initially resistant to the idea of freeing the Taliban inmates, began to release them under US pressure. Some 4,600 Taliban inmates were freed over the few past months, but Ghani refused to free the remaining 400, arguing they were behind major deadly attacks and that setting them free was outside his authority.
Faced by mounting pressure, after Eid Al-Adha holidays two weeks ago, the president vowed to summon a traditional grand assembly, the Loya Jirga, to help him decide if the remaining Taliban inmates should be freed or not.


Footage showing men in uniforms mutilating the bodies of purported Taliban members went viral on social media this week, raising concerns that violence between security forces and the militants may impede the peace process despite the prisoner release.

Last week, the assembly approved the release, which is now underway and expected to be followed by the peace talks, in accordance with the US-Taliban deal.
The process, however, coincides with a spike in violence in the country and mutual accusations of an increase in assaults by the Taliban and Afghan government forces.
On Thursday, the Defense Ministry said it was probing a video circulating on social media showing men in army uniforms mutilating the bodies of purported Taliban fighters.
The UN requested that the incident be investigated. It remains unclear when and where it took place.
The Taliban, in a statement, said the bodies of their fighters were mutilated in the Arghandab district of the Zabul province.
Concerns are rising that similar acts of violence will further delay the peace process.
“Let us hope that this video does not become part of revenge-taking between the two sides and affect the process of peace. It is really unfortunate,” analyst Shafiq Haqpal told Arab News.
“As the violence continues, we see more brutal and shocking tactics from the sides and examples of revenge-taking, and that is very worrying and impacts any trust in a peace process,” Shaharzad Akbar, the chief of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, said in a Twitter post on Thursday.
“It is on the leadership of the two sides to have clear messages to their fighters to avoid war crimes and actions that further the instinct for revenge that will make the reconciliation that should come out of a peace process difficult,” she added.