Singapore bishop withdraws plan to resume Masses amid coronavirus

Paterno Esmaquel II
Singapore bishop withdraws plan to resume Masses amid coronavirus
'I invite you to make the greatest sacrifice of all, which is to deprive ourselves of the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass,' says Archbishop William Goh

SINGAPORE – The Roman Catholic archbishop of Singapore, William Goh, withdrew his plan to resume public Masses in Singapore by Saturday, March 14, after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus disease as a pandemic.

Masses in Singapore have been suspended since February 15 due to the disease called COVID-19. (READ: In Singapore, Ash Wednesday is do-it-yourself amid coronavirus)

In an announcement on Thursday evening, March 12, Goh said he made an earlier decision to resume public Masses “in the context of a stabilized situation.” He said the situation worldwide later worsened, however, with the WHO declaring COVID-19 as a pandemic on Wednesday, March 11.

Goh said public Masses in Singapore will remain suspended “until the situation is much improved and more stabilized.”

Singapore has had 187 cases of COVID-19 as of Thursday, with around 51% of these patients having fully recovered. 

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday evening ruled out a lockdown of the city-state, as he said Singapore should not shut itself off from the world. Lee, however, recommended tighter precautionary measures against COVID-19, including shorter religious gatherings or reduced attendance in these.

Goh said: “We are not helping the situation if we resume Masses at this time, simply because of the sheer numbers of Catholics packing in each service, and their fluidity in moving from one parish to another, and attending different services. Furthermore, a large percentage of our parishioners belong to a vulnerable group – seniors with lower immunity.”

“I know it is a decision that will not please all, but as the head of the Catholic Church in Singapore, I have to decide for the common good. Should anything untoward happen, it would be too late to regret. We should not insist on having the Eucharist at the expense of the safety of the larger community,” said Goh.

Deeply emotional topic

Goh then appealed to Singapore’s Catholics “to be magnanimous, charitable, and generous, especially during this season of Lent, for the greater good of our people in Singapore.” He said this is a way to become good Catholics.

There are around 300,000 Catholics in Singapore, a city-state of 5.7 million people. 

The suspension of Masses is a deeply emotional issue for Catholics here. Many of the faithful here, a Chinese majority country, are converts who take their faith more seriously than cradle Catholics.

Thousands of Filipino workers also belong to Singapore’s Catholic Church, and the continued suspension of Masses comes at a time when at least 7 Filipinos in Singapore have tested positive for COVID-19. (READ: Keep the faith: Singapore churches go online amid coronavirus)

“I invite you to make the greatest sacrifice of all, which is to deprive ourselves of the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass,” Goh said.

“Instead, you will use this time to yearn for our Lord in the Eucharist even more through participation in the online Masses, prayer services and praying the scriptures. It is an occasion for us to be conscious that we should never take the freedom to practice our faith or the Eucharist for granted,” the archbishop added.

He explained that Catholics should not think that their faith is compromised because they do not have public Masses for the time being.

“The early Christians and those Christians still under persecution in some countries today also did not have the privilege of the Eucharist to accompany them in their faith journey. But they were still able to keep their faith alive, and grow from strength to strength by reading, praying and sharing the Word of God,” said Goh. Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.