03/23/2020, 15.57
JAPAN
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Archbishop Kikuchi: something good born from awful oronavirus situation

by Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi

Suspension of functions in the larger parishes of Tokyo. Local Catholics are united in prayer. The moment to create a stronger spiritual communion among the faithful. On March 24 the archdiocese will make a decision for Easter and Holy Week.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) - “Something good has been born from a bad situation. So I'm optimistic. I encouraged all Catholics to remember that we are not isolated but rather that in prayer we are united," says Msgr. Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi, Archbishop of Tokyo. He speaks of how difficult it was to make the decision to suspend masses, which can only be celebrated in small communities where 10-50 people usually attend services. He believes that now is the time to create a stronger spiritual communion. Below the reflections of Msgr. Kikuchi.

We have decided to suspend public masses from February 27. The ban is absolute for Sunday services in larger parishes. However, weddings and funerals can be celebrated, provided that sufficient measures are taken to prevent infections. The suspension also applies to weekday masses, apart from those held in small communities.

It is not easy for the Church to make the decision to suspend masses, which should be offered daily. But I hope the faithful understand the seriousness of the situation. In the parishes of the Tokyo Archdiocese, there are quite a number of churches visited by a large number of people, including tourists, who come from many different places. Moreover, thinking about the increasing number of elderly people among the faithful, it is important to put efforts in avoiding risks, such as the possibility of close contact with other people during the mass and the possibility of getting infected along the way as they travel to church. We have certainly considered the possibility of emphasizing personal responsibility of the faithful in their participation in the mass. However, during this crucial two weeks, in order to prevent the spread of the infection, and to ensure its effectiveness, it was decided that the mass should be suspended.

We absolutely believe in the power of prayers. There is no stopping us from praying just because the infections had spread widely. In taking various practical measures to respond to COVID-19, there is no point in having a Church in this world unless we include our spiritual response in our fight against COVID-19.

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. 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.

Grounded on a faith that hopes for life, with compassion and love, let us pray to God our Father, through the intercession of our blessed Mother, that He may restore those who are infected by COVID-19 and take full control of the situation.

The idea was to allow the faithful to return to church after March 14: the new restrictions imposed by the government have made this impossible. Our decisions are based on the statement by the Commission of Experts of the Ministry of Health, which asked citizens to avoid contact with each other, and not to gather in places without adequate ventilation. This is exactly what we have done.

It is true that there are small parishes in Japan, where only 10-50 people attend Sunday mass. For example, the diocese of Sapporo has made it clear that those with only 10 people can continue to recite their liturgy.

The problem is that in Tokyo there are churches where more than 500 faithful participate. It is difficult, for example, to order large parishes to close their chapel, and instead allow small communities to continue with the services. What is happening is that some faithful of our archdiocese are joining those who participate in the masses in the small parishes of the neighboring dioceses.

Now the point is that Sunday mass was not suspended to protect the faithful from the infected, but rather to ensure that they are not the source of infection for others, especially the elderly with past or chronic diseases. According to the Ministry of Health, there are many young people who are infected without having any symptoms. They could become a source of contagion in our community.

Although I am worried about how far this situation can continue, I am happy to hear of many Catholics who have started expressing their desire to receive communion and to physically attend mass. They have begun to understand how important the Eucharist is for our spiritual life, now that they have lost the opportunity to receive it.

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