When the Coronavirus started to spread throughout the world, we never expected our Churches and other houses of worship to be affected to such a degree, where houses of worship were forced to close, and that too, for such a long period of time. It has been a trying time for many of us, having to stay away from Church. However, earlier this week many Churches in Europe started to reopen after three months of lockdown. In Malaysia, the announcement has been made that the houses of worship will be reopened gradually, depending on the situation of the respective zones.
When the government announced that mosques and suraus in the green zone areas would reopen starting Friday, 15 May 2020, the non-Muslims were expecting their houses of worship to reopen too. On Monday, 18 May 2020, the representatives of Spiritual Leaders of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) met with the Ministry of National Unity (Kementerian Perpaduan) to discuss the reopening of their respective houses of worship. MCCBCHST submitted their Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for their religious gatherings, after which it was officially announced that the Non-Muslim houses of worship would reopen under the strict SOP in green zone areas, with a maximum of 30 persons only in attendance for each session, starting 10 June 2020, after the completion of the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) Phase 5.
A few of our Parishioners have already sent text messages enquiring about the reopening of our Church. Of course, many of our Parishioners are eager to find out who will be selected to participate in the Eucharistic celebration when the Church reopens on 10 June 2020. Unfortunately, our Parish of St Joseph, Sentul is not eligible to reopen so soon. Among the 16 yellow zone districts in Kuala Lumpur, Sentul has the highest number of COVID-19 cases, with a total of 8 cases reported thus far. There is always a possibility that Sentul District might escalate into a red zone area. Even if the number of cases drop, and Sentul is categorised as a green zone, I am not prepared to reopen our Church so soon. Right now, I have managed to postpone all weddings which were supposed to have taken place between April and August 2020, to September onwards. Some couples have even agreed to postpone their wedding to next year.
After studying the SOPs and the guidelines for the celebration of Sacraments under the CMCO, I personally find that it is not easy for our Parishioners to strictly adhere to these. It is good for us to wait patiently in prayer before reopening our Church for the Eucharistic celebration and other sacraments as well. In the meantime, we will set up a new committee – Parish Response Team (PRT), which will study the SOP before implementing the same. We need more time to study the SOP and adequately train our PRT to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of everyone.
Since the first phase of the MCO (18 March 2020), I observed that our Parishioners have been quite comfortable participating in online Masses and obtaining other spiritual resources, videos or audios from various forms of media. I realise that many spend more time listening, viewing, praying and sharing spiritual insights as compared to before the MCO. I strongly encourage you to continue to spend more time increasing your knowledge of God through various social media, and deepening your faith, during this difficult time.
We have been hearing and reading about the rising number of infections and deaths throughout the world, in the first two quarters of this year. Initially, we were unprepared and felt disorientated in facing this global crisis. We have experienced the peak and now the curve is gradually going down in terms of the number of infections and deaths. However, many are still bracing themselves as they predict a second wave, but I believe that we are now more informed and prepared to undertake this new norm and way of life. We are aware of how to protect ourselves from getting infected. Above all, let us remember, in the midst of this pandemic – which affects everyone, irrespective of race or religion – to keep ourselves close to God with sincere prayer and to remain strong in faith, hope and love. “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power, and love and self-control,” (2 Tim 1:7).
Stay Safe, Continue Trusting in the Lord and Keep the Faith.
Rev. Fr. George Packiasamy