A doctor tends to a patient at church-run St. Mary’s Hospital in Seoul. Catholic priests continue to offer psychological and spiritual healing to patients during the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo: Facebook)
Catholic priests in South Korea continue to offer psychological and spiritual healing to patients in hospitals including those operated by the Church amid great difficulties during the Covid-19 pandemic, a church official says.
In the Archdiocese of Seoul, priests and religious people have been visiting patients at 29 church-run hospitals and clinics despite those being initially closed to all forms of religious services since South Korea recorded its first Covid-19 case on Jan. 20 last year, said Father Kim Ji-hyung, chairman of Seoul Archdiocese's hospital pastoral committee.
The priest said church-run hospitals have been suffering from financial constraints during the pandemic and the archdiocese decided to support them to overcome difficulties.
“The authorities ordered an end to religious activities in the hospitals as virus infections soared. Some pastors have adopted online video conferencing to continue offering services to patients where it is not possible to meet them face to face,” Father Kim said.
The priest added that pastors have also connected with the Catholic Caregivers’ Association to reach out to patients in other hospitals.
South Korea, which has a world-class healthcare system, has recorded 79,762 cases and 1,448 deaths from Covid-19.
A Christian sect, Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu, was blamed for spreading the virus as dozens of people who attended its prayer sessions were found to be infected.
Members of the sect, founded in the 1980s, gather in the thousands for prayer programs. They sit and kneel close to one another and are forbidden to wear masks during services.
Followers of Shincheonji hide their membership as they are not a popular sect in South Korea. They also see sickness as a weakness.
Tens of thousands of South Koreans urged the government to dissolve the sect for violating health guidelines that unleashed the viral outbreak in Daegu metropolitan area, which has a population of 2.5 million.
Father Jang Gyeong-min, who visits patients in Samsung Medical Center in Seoul, lamented that the extreme actions of some religious groups that triggered the spread of the coronavirus have led the public to erroneously brand religious groups as those who are uncontrollable and violate rules in the name of religious acts.
“It hurt my heart when restrictions were imposed despite the rise in the number of patients needing spiritual care, but we were not able to dispense sacraments to people, even those on their death beds. It took time to dispel the misconception about religious groups and resume activities,” Father Jang said.
South Korea has a population of about 51.8 million. According to Pew Research Center, about 46 percent of South Koreans adhere to no religion while 29 percent are Christians and 23 percent Buddhists.
While Protestants make up the majority, the Catholic Church also has a significant following, estimated to be 11 percent of the population or about 5.6 million Catholics.