Vietnam religious groups urged to suspend gatherings

Priests can celebrate four Masses on Sundays to reduce the number of attendees and prevent Covid-19 spreading
Vietnam religious groups urged to suspend gatherings

Father Joseph, assistant priest of Sao Mai Parish, celebrates a livestreamed Mass on March 18. (Photo courtesy of Sao Mai Parish)

A government body has asked Christian organizations not to hold large religious gatherings and to protect the health of followers to help stem the coronavirus outbreak.

On March 17, Vu Chien Thang, head of the government committee for religious affairs, urged Catholic and Protestant leaders to refrain from holding large religious gatherings, sending representatives to attend activities abroad and receiving foreign dignitaries from coronavirus-hit countries and regions.

He said they should seek other forms of religious expression that suit the situation following recommendations on disease prevention by health authorities. They should also ensure the health of the faithful during Lent and Easter and take measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Thang said he appreciated religious leaders who have actively implemented the government’s guidelines on dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.

“I wish cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests and Catholic followers a happy Easter,” Thang said in a letter to local bishops.

He said government officials could not personally visit Catholic and Protestant leaders during Easter as they did in the past due to the pandemic.

The Center for Disease Control on March 17 called on Vietnamese Muslims who had attended a religious event in Malaysia to make their health declarations, quarantine themselves at home and get tested at health institutes.

State-run website Vietnamplus.vn reported that 90 Muslims from An Giang, Tay Ninh, Ninh Thuan and Dong Nai provinces and Ho Chi Minh City took part in a religious event in Malaysia from Feb. 27 to March 1. Among them, two men aged 36 and 42 from Ninh Thuan province tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc ordered the country to stop issuing visas to foreign visitors for 30 days starting on March 18. Vietnam is placing visitors from the United States, Europe and Asean countries in mandatory quarantine.

Church ensures safety of faithful

On March 19, Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Nang of Ho Chi Minh City asked Catholics to wear face masks in public places and churches and to keep themselves at a safe distance from one another.

They have to suspend all catechism classes, celebrations, pilgrimages, retreats and other activities, provide Massgoers with hand sanitizers and face masks and clean churches.

Archbishop Nang said it is not necessary to suspend Masses at present, so parish priests are allowed to celebrate as many as four Masses on Sundays to reduce the number of attendees and prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Those under 15 and above 65 and people with illnesses do not need to attend Mass, while children and elderly people should not go to confession this Lent.

The prelate urged them to follow online Masses, recite the rosary and pray for the end of the pandemic.

On March 17, Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh of Hue called on local parishes to trust in God by holding Divine Mercy services for groups of representatives on Fridays. Catholics should say prayers for the pandemic issued by Vietnamese bishops, believing that God will end the disease.

Archbishop Linh, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam, said people aged 60 and above and those who are vulnerable to the coronavirus could say prayers and do good deeds at home instead of going to church.

He also allowed local priests to grant general absolution to Catholics during Holy Week and celebrate Paschal Triduum services in simple ways to reduce the risk of infection. They have also been asked to suspend catechism classes and other gatherings.

The health ministry reported on March 19 that Vietnam has 85 confirmed coronavirus cases including 26 foreigners. Some 42,000 infected people are being quarantined or monitored at hospitals or at home.

The ministry has not reported any Covid-19 deaths, adding that 17 coronavirus patients have recovered.

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