KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 — The Catholic Church will suspend all weekend and weekday public Masses in peninsular Malaysia from March 14 to March 29, after the novel coronavirus was declared a global pandemic.
The Catholic Bishops of Peninsular Malaysia said the weekend religious service would be broadcast instead in various major languages, and weekday Masses in English. The suspension will begin on March 13 if the state’s weekend starts on Friday.
“We therefore exempt all Catholics from fulfilling their Sunday obligation of assisting/ attending Mass during this period,” Penang Bishop Rev Sebastian Francis, Kuala Lumpur Archbishop Rev Julian Leow, and Melaka-Johor Bishop Rev Bernard Paul said in a joint pastoral letter today.
“Although, a broadcasted Mass is no substitute for the obligation to assist/ attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, with the suspension of public Masses on Sundays and weekdays, watching the televised Masses could serve as a form of spiritual ‘devotion’.”
This decision comes amid the Catholic fasting season of Lent.
The Catholic Church in Malaysia has three archbishops — Kuala Lumpur, Sabah, and Sarawak. Peninsular dioceses fall under the KL archdiocese’s authority.
The Catholic Church in peninsular Malaysia also cancelled all catechism classes, programmes and activities during the same period, besides suspending all meetings, gatherings, formations, RCIA sessions (classes for adults looking to convert to Catholicism), fellowships, and events in church.
Any weddings or funerals are to be conducted privately with guests limited to immediate family members and close friends.
“For the sacraments of penance (confession), anointing of the sick and Holy Communion for the home bound, kindly contact the parish office for an appointment with your parish priest. The priests are to take the necessary health precautions in administering the Sacraments,” said the pastoral letter.
Rev Francis, Rev Leow, and Rev Paul said the Catholic Church’s ecclesiastical province in Peninsular Malaysia has, over the past weeks, introduced pastoral and safety measures to combat the Covid-19 outbreak.
But they realised that the risk of infection couldn’t be adequately or full excluded, especially in large gatherings in confined spaces.
“As we witness the rise in numbers in our country and the uncontained explosion in other countries where both civil and religious authorities had been slow in responding to the imminent threat, it is now time for us to put in place further measures, which may appear to be extreme, but we recognise that our failure to do so may have dire consequences resulting in an explosive outbreak, putting the most vulnerable in our communities at risk and placing further pressure on our heavily strained health services.”Pastoral letter from the Catholic Bishops of Peninsular Malaysia
The archbishop and bishops acknowledged that many Catholics would be “extremely pained” by their decision, but said the Covid-19 crisis meant either continuing with present mitigation steps or implementing wide-ranging social-distancing measures, including shutting down all mass gatherings.
“There is no evidence from countries which are now facing large outbreaks that the first option will be sufficient. On the other hand, the experiences of other countries have taught us that social-distancing is able to contain massive outbreaks.
“The current measures we are taking are also in accordance with the recommendation of the Ministry of Health (MOH) issued on 11th of March 2020 to postpone all mass gatherings,” they said.
Senator Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of religious affairs, said earlier today that Muslim Friday prayers would continue if MOH believed that the novel coronavirus outbreak in Malaysia was still contained.
Health Minister Dr Adham Baba asserted in a press conference today that Malaysia could still contain the Covid-19 outbreak and referred to Zulkifli’s statement.
Malaysian health authorities are currently trying to track an estimated 5,000 Malaysians who attended a “tabligh” gathering at the Seri Petaling mosque in Selangor from February 27 to March 1, after Brunei confirmed a Covid-19 case who attended that gathering.
Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah also announced yesterday that a survey to track sporadic Covid-19 cases, or cases without a travel history to affected countries or contact with a positive infection, in Malaysia turned up one positive result. He said investigations were ongoing to determine the source of the sporadic patient.