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Communiqué—3rd International Theological Conference of the African Institute of Consecrated Life (AICLA)

COVID-19: THE CHURCH AND CONSECRATED LIFE

Communiqué issued at the end of the 3rd International Theological Conference of the African Institute of Consecrated Life (AICLA), held from 5th – 7th October 2021 at the African Institute of Consecrated Life, Abuja.

1. Preamble
We, the participants at the 3rd International Theological Conference of the African Institute of Consecrated Life organized by the Claretian Missionaries, reflected on the challenges and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Church and Consecrated Life. At the end of our deliberations and prayers, we therefore issue the following communique.

2. The Bible, Plague & Pandemic
In the Biblical sense, COVID-19 is a plague which offers us some lessons as those learned in the Biblical times. As in biblical times, COVID-19 drew many closer to God; they became more religious and prayerful; and many more became less nasty and insensitive. Also, our experience during the COVID-19 pandemic became opportunities for intensive Christian witness. Undoubtedly, COVID-19 pandemic had made us to return to God in penitence and hope, remembering Psalm 46:10 – “Be still and know that I am God”. These lessons and positive attitudes must endure.

3. The Effect of COVID-19 on Consecrated Life
We acknowledge that COVID-19 massively disrupted the community life of consecrated persons. Some of the elements of Community life disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic include sharing of prayers/common prayer, participation in the secular life, especially works/apostolates. Accordingly, the leadership of the Church and religious congregations should lead by example by putting in place mitigating measures against the spread of the pandemic.

4. Improving Healthcare and Health Emergencies
Though COVID-19 is a global pandemic, Sub-Saharan Africa, especially Nigeria, was very vulnerable because of its challenging health system in Africa. For instance, per capita health expenditure in Nigeria is a mere 3.89% of her GDP. This low spending on health, results to poor health outcomes. We acknowledge that during the period of the national lockdown in 2020, private organizations especially religious organizations and individuals contributed palliatives to support poor communities in addition to providing public enlightenment programmes and the donation of personnel protective equipment (PPE). Therefore, we applaud the critical role various religious congregations played during the COVID-19 national lockdown.

5. Revisiting COVID-19 Vaccine Drive
We acknowledge the importance of the vaccination as part of active immunity that aids the body’s immune system. There are concerns about the current COVID-19 vaccine drive. There are strong reservations for making COVID vaccination mandatory. This is because mandatory vaccination is against international laws (e.g., Nuremberg laws). We note with concern how some individuals use the social media to generate fear about COVID-19. The current era of pandemic offers a massive opportunity to fix our immunity and health system.

6. Resolutions/Recommendations
We arise from this conference with the following resolutions and recommendations to the civil authorities, the Church, the Consecrated persons, and men and women of goodwill:

a. Mitigating measure against COVID-19 spread
i. Practice of social distancing by consecrated persons, even at community prayers, especially when their work takes them out of their communities.
ii. Engagement in Self-quarantine/Isolation: Whenever a member of the community feels unwell, or has been exposed to a suspected case of Covid-19 infection, the person in Christian charity and fairness should self-isolate to protect the community from becoming infected or a super-spreader.
iii. Exhibiting Sagacity in perception: This pertains to prudential judgment of superiors. They should know which mass gathering to prioritise, and the ones they can dispense. Also, we exhort all to resist conspiracy theories and accept facts available to them. Anti-vaxxers need catechesis, and consecrated persons should lead by example.
iv. Embracing the option of on-line meetings: To mitigate unnecessary exposures, consecrated persons should make use of digital and communication technologies for virtual interactions.
v. Voluntary testing and vaccination: Consecrated persons should go for PCR Test, and vaccination. Consecrated persons must lead by example.
vi. Improving hygiene conditions: COVID-19 has shown us again the pivotal importance of hygiene and hygienic environment. Consecrated persons should be apostles of hygienic living as the first line of defence against coronavirus and other highly infectious diseases.
vii. Creating Exigency Plans: To prevent the spread and prepare for future occurrence, consecrated persons must lead the way in organizing proactive measures for containment, like standard operations procedure (SOP) as part of exigency plans for public health emergencies.

b. Need for resilient and responsive health system
i. There is a need for a paradigm shift from the dominant clinical system to a broader concept of social determinants of health. Accordingly, civil authorities, religious communities and non-governmental organizations should create a synergy for improving nutrition, housing, social services and improved purchasing power. Furthermore, government should increase budgetary allocation for the provision of healthcare services in Nigeria since funding is critical to the implementation of government plans and response to public health emergencies.
ii. The nation should improve healthcare efficiency by tackling both corruption and allocative inefficiency. Furthermore, to make access to medication affordable, we recommend the use of generic drugs instead of branded drugs.
iii. We resolve to promote inexpensive treatment of COVID-19, as well as embracing lifestyle and nutritional changes.

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