Volunteers wearing face masks amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus sweep the floor of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon on March 13. (Photo: Ye Aung Thu/AFP)
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar (CBCM) has issued pastoral and healthcare recommendations to Catholics in the Buddhist-majority country to take precautions over the coronavirus outbreak.
Its letter on March 16 was signed by Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, Bishop Felix Lian Khen Thang (CBCM president), Bishop John Saw Yaw Han (CBCM secretary-general) and Bishop Alexander Pyone Cho, head of the CBCM’s health commission.
Bishops recommended that “persons displaying flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, sneezing are advised to stay home and avoid public places including churches. Such persons are exempted from Sunday and feast day obligations.”
“Catholics who are not able to attend Masses for the above reasons are encouraged to stay home and read the Sunday Liturgy of the Word, make an act of Spiritual Communion and keep oneself united with the Lord,” the letter stated.
The faithful are urged “to pray for the victims, especially for those who have died and their grieving family members, for the medical professionals and for the experts who will speedily develop vaccines and ways to control the outbreak.”
The letter added that prayers for the victims must be included in the general intercessions of the Eucharistic celebration.
The bishops also issued practical recommendations about Masses and services. As a temporary measure, stoops of holy water should be kept dry, Massgoers should bow instead of shaking hands, and Holy Communion should be delivered in the hand.
“We strongly appeal to all the faithful to refrain from kissing and touching sacred images and statues during the time of crisis,” the letter stated.
Church officials announced that there will not be washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday or kissing of the Cross. Those who wish to venerate the Cross should kneel down and bow.
They also suggested celebrating the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday from 5-7pm instead of with a midnight Mass.
Clergy and faithful alike should use best practices through careful hand washing and frequent cleaning of liturgical space and objects.
“Confessions are to be done in the confessional with a protective cloth installed at the grille. Both confessors and penitents should wear face masks,” the letter said.
The bishops advised that all meetings, gatherings, formations, fellowships and events in church and halls be canceled along with catechism classes, praise and worship gatherings and seminars.
“We should cancel or postpone pastoral activities such as ordinations, jubilees or feast programs,” they added.
Special collections should be held to help those affected by Covid-19.
Church officials’ guidelines came a day after the Myanmar president announced the cancellation of festivals and celebrations including the traditional water festival from March 15 to April 30.
Myanmar still has no confirmed cases of coronavirus after testing more than 100 people.
The government has suspended all large public gatherings and cinemas across the country were closed from March 16. Government-run and private nurseries are also closed until the end of April.
State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has urged people to follow the health ministry’s guidelines and to avoid public gatherings.
“People are the key to prevent rumors and misinformation in the wake of Covid-19. People are the key to avoid panic buying and stockpiling goods,” Suu Kyi said in a televised address on March 16.