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Two Nigerian archbishops suspend sign of peace to help prevent Ebola

Lagos, Nigeria

In an effort to curtail the spread of Ebola, the archdioceses of Lagos and Abuja instructed their priests to suspend all forms of physical contact during Mass, including the traditional sign of peace.

"Taking into consideration the fact that this rite is optional, we shall henceforth omit it, i.e., not invite people to offer the sign of peace. When you get to this rite, skip it," Lagos Archbishop Alfred Adewale Martins said in a statement Sunday.

He said while holy water could be used in homes and offices, the fonts at church entrances should be emptied. He also encouraged the use of gloves when counting money from Mass collections.

He advised priests to use extra care when visiting the sick, especially when administering the sacrament of anointing of the sick.

The archbishop also advised them "to avoid physical contact when giving out holy Communion."

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Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan told journalists Sunday that the church was taking necessary precautionary steps to avoid the spread of the disease.

"We did not ban handshaking during Mass. We are only discouraging it, and it is going to be temporary until it is clear that Nigeria is no longer under Ebola threat," he said.

The World Health Organization declared an international public health emergency Aug. 8 in West Africa as the death toll neared 1,000. Most deaths were in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, but two people have died in Nigeria, and more than 130 people were quarantined there because of suspected contact with the virus.

Ghana's bishops have urged their government to be extra vigilant in screening people who enter the country by sea, including fishermen who return to their families.

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