Malaysia suspends liturgies, Singapore calls off the resumption of Masses

St. Alphonsus Church (the Novena Church), Singapore. Photo: Cheene Ru/Unsplash

SINGAPORE (UCAN):  Archbishop William Goh of Singapore, announced in a March 12 circular that the archdiocese would cancel plans, announced on March 5, to end an already month-long suspension of will continue the suspension of Masses and other liturgical services in response to the Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2) situation.

Archbishop Goh explained that services had been scheduled to resume on March 14 “in the context of a stabilised situation.” However, he noted that with the declaration by the World Health Organisation (WHO) of a pandemic on March 11, the archdiocese would not be helping the situation if Masses were resumed.

Meanwhile, in Malaysia, Bishop Sebastian Francis of Penang, Bishop Bernard Paul of Melaka-Johor, and Archbishop Julian Leow of Kuala Lumpur, issued a joint letter suspending all public liturgical programmes for two weeks from March 14, with a plan to extend the suspension if the situation demands.

“We will continue to monitor and review the situation” to determine “if the suspension needs to be extended,” the bishops said. 

All meetings, gatherings, formations, fellowships and events in churches are cancelled will be put on hold during this period, the Malaysian bishops said adding that the measures follow the recommendation of the Ministry of Health, which on March 11 asked for all large gatherings to be postponed. “All mass gatherings should be postponed to minimise the spread of Covid-19,” Malaysia’s Health Ministry said in a Twitter post.

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However, weddings and funerals are to be conducted privately with guests limited to immediate family members and close friends, the pastoral letter noted.

The bishops said the measures “may appear to be extreme but we recognise that our failure to do so may have dire consequences resulting in an explosive outbreak.” They noted the situation has worsened recently with 158 confirmed cases in the country as of March 12—an increase of 135 cases within two weeks. 

Malaysia has seven dioceses but four are on Borneo island where Covid-19 infection has not been severe.

Singaporeans have been urged to be mindful of the outbreak when attending religious services as reports emerged that 95 Singaporeans had attended a large religious gathering in Malaysia at which several people tested positive. The event is reported to have taken place at a mosque in Kuala Lumpur between February 27 and March 1, involving around 10,000 people from different countries.

Singapore’s Environment Minister Masagos Zulkifli said in a Facebook post on March 12 that the Health Ministry is identifying and investigating the Singaporean attendees.

The virus hit Singapore in early February, infecting some 187 people as of March 13. The Ministry of Health reported that 93 had been discharged from hospitals, while the rest are under various stages of treatment, including 10 under intensive care. There have been no deaths.

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“Singapore is a good example of an all-of-government approach—Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s regular videos are helping to explain the risks and reassure people,” World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said.

Father Stephen Yim, who heads the outbreak task force of the Archdiocese of Singapore, said, “Our Catholic Medical Guild is reviewing developments and following” the directives of the government.

Singapore has about 300,000 Catholics out of a population of 5.7 million people.

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