Hong Kong suspends Masses as precaution against Covid-19

Cardinal Tong celebrating Sunday Mass on February 16. Screen capture/HKDAVC

HONG KONG (SE): Parish priests and the laity in Hong Kong expressed understanding and support concerning the diocese’s decision to suspend Sunday and weekday Masses for two weeks to prevent the spreading of the Covid-19 (formerly known as the Wuhan coronavirus) coronavirus.

John Cardinal Tong Hon, the apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, announced in a message on February 13 that the suspension would run from February 15 to 28 to reduce the risk of spreading the infection. However, churches would remain open for personal prayer and visits to the Blessed Sacrament.

“The next two weeks will be a crucial time to suppress the epidemic,” Cardinal Tong said in his message. He acknowledged that “some Church members may be disappointed. However, I hope that everyone can understand this is not an easy decision.”

The cardinal said, “At this difficult time, everyone should not panic. We must deepen our trust in God and implement our Christian love for our neighbours and all people.”

Special arrangements were also made for Lent and Easter. Ash Wednesday Mass and liturgies, including the Way of the Cross, have been cancelled. The usual rites of election and the scrutinies have also been also called off and the celebration of the rite of Christian Initiation of Adults will be postponed to Pentecost, on May 31.

During a Mass streamed over the Internet on February 16 from the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception, Cardinal Tong told those joining online that they bore witness to God through love, faith and hope. He led prayers for people affected by the epidemic as well as for its end. 

During the 6.00pm anticipated Mass on February 14 at the cathedral, parish priest Father Dominic Chan Chi-Ming said Masses had been suspended for the sake of public welfare and hygiene. He said the faithful can do acts of penance during the period and treat it as a kind of spiritual training before the arrival of Lent. He pointed out that although Masses were stopped, love must go on. 

Father Thomas Law Kwok-fai, the parish priest of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Wanchai, said in a post on Facebook that the suspension of Mass was a decision made out of love as the sacrifice was made in response to medical advice in order to help minimise the risk of spreading the Covid-19 coronavirus. 

A team of doctors pointed out during a briefing at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception, Caine Road, on February 8 that celebrating Masses carries a risk due to the large number of people gathering for whom there may be no records. It was pointed out that surgical masks cannot provide adequate protection should there be any invisible carriers within the congregation.

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Father Law said it is good training for the laity to do their spiritual exercises with the rich online materials posted by parishes and groups.

He said his parish will sanitise the church premises for people coming for Eucharistic Adoration in which they can pray for peace in Hong Kong and the passing of the epidemic. 

Father Jay Flandez, chaplain for Filipinos, said Sunday Mass is important for the migrant community. “Every Sunday we gather as one body of Christ, to nurture our community life. This is the time where migrants can give their personal time to the Lord,” he said. 

But the chaplain said that although Sunday Mass is the spiritual food and nourishment in our earthy pilgrimage, during a time of epidemic, any public gathering is a threat to our health. The measure is a way to protect the body of Christ, the faithful and show support to society as a whole. 

Father Flandez added that some people might not feel comfortable during Mass either as some Covid-19 cases have been found to be locally-infected. 

“Church gatherings should foster compassion but because of the epidemic some people become suspicious of their seatmates. Instead of compassion there is an attitude of suspicion,” he said.

He said he understands that there are faithful who are disappointed by the Mass suspension. But he urged them to remember that our faith is not contained inside the church building and must be expressed through obedience for the common good. They can nurture their faith by participating in Masses streamed online, reading the word of God and meditating on it and praying the rosary. 

Belinda Parreñas of the Holy Family parish, said she understood that the suspension is for the safety of Massgoers because no one knows who is healthy or sick inside the church. However, she would still go to the church for personal prayer and later to a place where she can enjoy the sun and the wind.

Cecilia Golez of St. Joseph’s Church, Fanling, said that in her 27 years in Hong Kong, Sunday Mass has been her main source of strength. Her soul longs for an online Mass in which she can pray for others. 

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The community to which she belongs will also not gather to help prevent the spread of the virus. However, she believes they will miss each other and when they meet again they will cherish their friendship all the more.

The Anglican Church (Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui) also announced on February 13 that worship services in the dioceses of Hong Kong Island, East Kowloon and West Kowloon would be suspended from February 15 to 29.

A preacher who attended a worship service on January 23 at a Protestant Church in Sai Ying Pun, organised for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, was later diagnosed as the 43th confirmed case in Hong Kong. According to a February 11 statement from the Centre for Health Protection (CHP), he is a 59-year-old man with an underlying illness who had no travel history during the incubation period.

The Hong Kong Christian Council, a co-organiser of the event, issued a statement on February 11 urging people who had been at the event to be aware of their physical condition and seek medical attention if they had respiratory symptoms. The Methodist Church in Siu Sai Wan where the preacher was based announced that all gatherings in February had been cancelled.

A 54-year-old man with a good health record, and living in Taikoo Shing became the 57th confirmed case in Hong Kong, according to another press release of the CHP on February 16. He had no travel history and had a fever since February 7 and a cough since February 15. He said he had attended a church activity in Shau Kei Wan on February 9 and relevant contract tracing by the centre is ongoing.

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