Myanmar calls off passion celebration due to Covid-19 fears

Church urges Catholics to fast, do penance and carry out the Way of the Cross
Myanmar calls off passion celebration due to Covid-19 fears

Two Buddhist monks wear face masks while walking along a street in Yangon. Myanmar is surprisingly not among the more than 75 countries with confirmed Covid-19 cases. (Photo: Sai Aung Main/AFP)

Church officials in Myanmar have announced that the annual celebration of reflecting Jesus’ passion on Cross Mountain during Lent will not be held due to growing concerns over the fast-spreading coronavirus.

Under the guidelines from Bishop Justine Saw Min Thide of Hpa-an, the celebration that was initially slated to be held on April 2-4 has been canceled. 

“But Catholics can come and do fasting, penance and the Way of the Cross with their own arrangement,” stated the diocese’s notice released on March 7.

Thousands of Catholics across Myanmar participate in a trek to the popular mountain shrine annually to do the Way of the Cross and celebrate Mass in Theinseik village.

The 185-meter climb up Cross Mountain in eastern Myanmar helps Catholic pilgrims reflect on Jesus' passion. Fourteen wooden crosses dot the mountain trail leading to a 12-meter concrete cross and an altar.

The Church, inspired by the many pagodas on mountains in Myanmar, cleared the land and began work in 1979. The shrine, near Theinseik Parish’s 80-hectare rubber plantation, was finished in 1982. 

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar has also canceled the 118th anniversary of Our Lady of Lourdes celebration in Nyaung Lay Bin in Yangon Archdiocese due to Covid-19 fears.

A letter signed on March 6 by Bishop John Saw Yaw Han, auxiliary bishop of Yangon, asked parish priests to arrange an adoration “for people affected by Covid-19 and their families, to control the fast-spreading virus by finding a cure and for health workers who carry out their duties with safety.”

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, who is also president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, has called for “universal brotherhood of humanity” over the coronavirus.

“Let Masses and adorations be held in every church for our suffering brothers and sisters. Myanmar Church accompanies all the brothers and sisters and countries affected by this sad plight with prayers,” Cardinal Bo said in a message on Feb. 24.

Myanmar last week refused entry to a tourist cruise ship carrying hundreds of tourists to Yangon, the commercial capital of Myanmar, out of fear of the epidemic.

Myanmar’s military has also postponed the annual parade on Armed Forces Day slated to be held on March 27 citing Covid-19.

Myanmar is still safe from Covid-19 and the Southeast Asian nation, which shares a long and porous border with neighboring China, is surprisingly not among the over 75 countries with confirmed cases.

Health officials, however, have warned of a potential outbreak and urged people to avoid mass gatherings.

According to a Health Ministry announcement on March 8, 13 Myanmar nationals who were flown back from Daegu, South Korea, were quarantined in hospital. 

Myanmar initially sent samples from suspected patients to be tested in Thailand but Myanmar has started testing at its own facility after acquiring medical kits to verify suspected cases of Covid-19 since Feb. 20.

As of March 9, 3,831 people have died from Covid-19 out of 110,288 confirmed cases worldwide. South Korea has had 50 deaths and 7,478 confirmed cases, making it the worst-affected country outside mainland China.

The World Health Organization has called on "all countries to continue efforts that have been effective in limiting the number of cases and slowing the spread of the virus."

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