Nigerian startup helps local churches digitize operations

By Nneka Chile and Seun Sanni

LAGOS, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Henry Okolo has grown accustomed to using his phone to stay in touch with God during the coronavirus pandemic. He uses an app every Sunday morning to listen to a virtual service in Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos.

Okolo, a father-of-two, has used it to help his family pray at home following the closure of churches in March. Lagos state, with more than 15,000 confirmed infections and about 200 deaths, has the largest share of Nigeria's about 45,000 COVID-19 cases. The O'Sanctus app, created last year by Nigerian tech firm Applus Dome Limited, allows Catholics to attend virtual services, reserve time with priests and make financial offerings. "It made so many things easy for us," said Okolo.

It is part of a broader trend across Africa which has seen people worshipping remotely, often by watching sermons online, because of the widespread closure of churches.

The closures have played a crucial role in the battle to stop the novel coronavirus taking hold across Africa, which has the highest number of Christians of any continent - 631 million people as of 2018, or 45% of the continent's population - according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity.

O'Sanctus, originally launched as a church management tool for one parish, covers four digitized parishes and has garnered more than 3,000 subscribers.

Mercedes Otakponmwenhi, who runs Applus Dome Limited, said the app was set up with the aim of digitizing parts of church activities without realising that the highly infectious virus would force people to worship from home.

In a push to ease restrictions, authorities in Lagos last week said places of worship can re-open from Friday, Aug. 7.

But the need for digital worship is not over. Places of worship can open for services only once a week, and at no more than 50% capacity.

(Reporting by Nneka Chile and Seun Sanni in Lagos; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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