The threat of coronavirus has forced Catholic officials in Hong Kong to suspend all Church programs for the next two weeks and cancel the Ash Wednesday liturgy that marks the beginning of the Lent season. Source: UCA News.
Cardinal John Tong, the apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, said the “disappointing” decision had been taken “because the next two weeks will be a crucial time to suppress the epidemic.”
The diocese has decided to suspend all public Masses on Sundays and weekdays from tomorrow until February 18, and to cancel the liturgy of Ash Wednesday, Cardinal Tong said in a pastoral letter yesterday.
Ash Wednesday, which marks seven weeks of fast, abstentions and prayer leading to the Easter feast of Christ’s resurrection, this year falls on February 26.
Hong Kong’s 500,000 Catholics will miss the liturgy in which ash will be smeared on foreheads, reminding humans that they will turn into dust when they die. It calls for repentance and prayers.
The move comes amid global fears that the epidemic, now called COVID-19, has worsened in the last few days in China against the expectations of experts.
The epidemic, first reported in Wuhan city of Hubei province, has spread across the world and claimed 1,369 lives, with more than 60,000 confirmed cases as of yesterday, mostly in China.
Hong Kong, which has open borders with China, has reported 50 confirmed cases and one death. Hundreds are now under self-isolation or observation.
“Some Church members may be disappointed” with the diocesan move, the cardinal’s message said. But “this is not an easy decision,” he said.
“At this difficult time,” Catholics must “deepen our trust in God and implement our Christian love for our neighbours and all people,” the message said.
The diocese of Hong Kong remains without a bishop since January 3, 2019, when its Bishop Michael Yeung died. Two days after the death Bishop Michael, the Vatican appointed Cardinal Tong as the administrator of the diocese. The cardinal had retired as bishop of Hong Kong in 2017.