Japanese dioceses suspend Masses amid coronavirus epidemic

Isao Kikuchi Archbishop Isao Kikuchi of Tokyo. CNA file photo.

Some Japanese dioceses have suspended Masses for several weeks due to the ongoing coronavirus epidemic across the country.

Last week, the Archdiocese of Tokyo cancelled all public Masses for more than two weeks in order to prevent the spread of the virus -- a policy in line with secular precautions being taken by the Japanese government.

Masses will be suspended until March 14th in the Tokyo area.

More than 1,000 people in Japan have contracted coronavirus, and, of March 4, 12 people in the country have died.

Tokyo's Archbishop Isao Kikuchi is the former bishop of the Niigata diocese in Northwestern Japan, and, because that diocese remains vacant, he is still entrusted with its leadership.

With the appearance of multiple positive tests for the coronavirus in Niigata City in recent days, the archbishop has now cancelled all public Masses in the Niigata dioceses, which will be effective from March 3rd until the 21st.

In an official statement, Archbishop Kikuchi of Tokyo stated, "It was pointed out that with the rate of the spread of infections at this time, the next two weeks is crucial for the prevention of outbreaks, thus recommending to refrain from holding gatherings with [an] unspecified number of people."

The archbishop, in a letter to the faithful, explained that failure to attend Mass will not violate the spiritual obligations of Catholics. Instead, the archbishop encouraged personal worship at home, away from public areas.

"For March 1 and 8, all the faithful in the Archdiocese of Tokyo will be exempted from their obligations to attend Sunday Mass," said Archbishop Kikuchi. "I recommend everyone to find time to read the Bible and offer prayers. We are looking at the possibility of broadcasting the Mass via the internet, and [in such cases], I encourage participation by viewing the live Mass in the act of spiritual communion."

Weekday Masses will also be cancelled. The archdiocese has also asked parish members to consider cancelling personal gatherings, and discouraged any events where food and drink is intended to be served.

Funerals and weddings will be held as planned in the coming weeks, and will not be affected by the suspension.

"Before the prescribed period ends, a decision will be made once again, and unless there is a serious request from the government to refrain from holding gatherings, there is no plan to continue the suspension of the Mass during the entire period when there are cases of infections. I hope you understand that this is an emergency safety measure to stop the spread of the infection."

Archbishop Kikuchi offered words of support to faithful who might find the suspension of Mass disheartening.

"Recalling the words of our Lord commanding 'Do this in memory of me,' would lead us to think that the suspension of the Mass is for us a spiritual defeat. The fact is we must offer more prayers than usual during this time of crisis," said the archbishop.

"The suspension of the Mass is actually not a defeat, but rather it is an opportunity for us to reaffirm the power of prayer, to deepen our spiritual life through prayer, and to recognize from our hearts its power."

Japan has taken aggressive actions in preventing the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. Nationwide, all elementary, junior high, and high schools have finished their school years weeks early, now closed until mid-April when the new academic year will begin.

The government has also discouraged any public meetings or large gatherings, cancelling community events across the country.

More in Asia - Pacific

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan has not posted any official recommendations or nationwide policies on their website in regards to the coronavirus outbreak as of yet.

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