Updated: March 11, 2020 09:44 AM GMT
Catholics receive ash on their heads on Ash Wednesday at St. Joseph Cathedral in Hanoi. (Photo courtesy tonggiaophanhanoi.org)
The Vatican’s envoy to Vietnam has called off celebrations in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to mark the seventh anniversary of Pope Francis’ election due to the growing coronavirus threat.
The decision by Archbishop Marek Zalewski, the non-resident representative of the Holy See to Vietnam, was announced by Hanoi Archdiocese on March 11 and Ho Chi Minh Archdiocese a day earlier.
Catholic in the Vietnamese capital had been gearing up to mark the occasion at a special Mass to pray for Pope Francis on March 13 at St. Joseph Cathedral.
Archbishop Zalewski and all the prelates from Hanoi Archdiocese and 10 dioceses in northern Vietnam were to concelebrate the Mass.
The archdiocese asked local Catholics to instead pray for the 266th pope, who was elected on March 13, 2013.
Father Ignatius Ho Van Xuan, vicar general of Ho Chi Minh City Archdiocese, said Archbishop Zalewski had called off a celebration scheduled for March 14 at Notre Dame Cathedral “for the sake of all people’s safety.”
Father Xuan said the Vatican envoy had previously wanted the two archdioceses to celebrate the first Jesuit pope’s seventh anniversary because the Holy See and Vietnam have not established diplomatic ties yet.
On March 6, Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Nang of Ho Chi Minh City said an upcoming youth gathering on Palm Sunday and Divine Mercy services on the second Easter Sunday should be organized at a local church and livestreamed to address the coronavirus issue.
Archbishop Nang called on local Catholics not to kiss the Holy Cross on Holy Friday as is their tradition but only to kneel before it.
He also asked them to wear face masks when confessing their sins, adding that parishes were providing masks.
Archbishop Joseph Vu Van Thien of Hanoi has also allowed priests to grant general absolution to Catholics at Lent retreats as a way to prevent coronavirus spread.
The Health Ministry confirmed that the Southeast Asian country had 35 coronavirus cases as of March 11.
The latest case was a 29-year-old Vietnamese woman who is believed to have contracted the disease on March 4 from two Europeans at a shopping center in Da Nang where she works.
Among the infected patients, 19 new cases were reported from March 6-10.
The ministry said 113 suspected coronavirus sufferers have been quarantined while nearly 24,800 others were being monitored at their homes and hospitals.