The Bishop of Daejeon looks at the situation in South Korea which just had its largest one-day increase. For the Church, scaremongering is feeding fear. All 16 dioceses have suspended open Masses. A pseudo-Christian sect is one of the sources of the outbreak. Some of its members were in the epicentre of the outbreak in China.
Daejeon (AsiaNews) – Lent, a time pf prayer, fasting and charity, begins today. It is also “a good time to question ourselves about God's plans for humanity shaken by the coronavirus emergency,” said Bishop Lazarus You Heung-sik of Daejeon.
“The almighty Lord is good and merciful,” notes the prelate, who chairs the Social Affairs Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea (CBCK).
“He alone knows how much destruction this disease will bring. But it is He himself who has permitted it. I pray to understand what the Lord is asking humanity, the Church, the diocese and me.
“Everything that happens, even apparently terrible things, are signs of His infinite love. To understand, it is necessary to pray more, to do penance and make sacrifices. I asked my faithful to fast every Friday.
“The food they won't eat will be collected and distributed to people in need. Thus, we shall also help coronavirus victims in a practical way. On Friday, we shall recite the Rosary for the end of the epidemic.”
This morning, South Korea’s health authorities announced 284 new Covid-19 cases, the largest one-day increase since the crisis began. So far, 12 people have died from the virus, whilst 1,261 cases have been reported so far; just a week ago, only 51 people were taken ill with it.
“In the last few days, we have seen an unbelievable increase. We thought that the emergency had been brought under control.
‘Still, for most bishops there is too much scaremongering. The upcoming election on 15 April is contributing to this. In fact, proportionately there have been few casualties, almost all elderly and ill for years. To my knowledge, no one young or healthy has died.”
According to the government, about 80 per cent of confirmed cases have two sources, a religious sect based in Daegu, 300 kilometres southeast of the capital, and a hospital in Cheongdo County.
The Shincheonji (New Heaven and New Earth) Church of Jesus has about 250,000 members in South Korea. The group is controversial because of its aggressive proselytising campaigns and the secrecy of its members who tend to hide their affiliation.
The movement believes that the group’s 88-year-old founder Lee Man-hee wore the cloak of Jesus Christ and will bring 144,000 people with him to heaven on Judgment Day.
"The Church of Shincheonji is not a Christian sect,” explains the bishop of Daejeon. “It is an invented religion, with a lot of money involved. The leaders are not sincere and hide information from the authorities that could be useful, such as their travel and meetings.”
This morning the sect gave South Korean authorities a list with the names of 213,000 followers. Health authorities will examine anyone in the group with flu symptoms. However, critics doubt the reliability of the list, as it reportedly does not include "aspiring followers" who study the sacred texts in secret places.
“This sect has a community of about 200 people in Wuhan, China, the city where the virus originated,” Bishop You said.
“At first, the leaders denied that they had been there. However, at a prayer meeting, a member said in a bombastic tone that his group came back from China without contracting the disease because of God’s will. So now we know that some sect members did go to Wuhan. It is almost certain that one of them brought the virus to Korea.”
Since the start of the crisis, the Catholic Church of Korea has called on people to stay calm and be socially responsible. "The situation is difficult but we will be able to overcome it, praying and trying to understand what God wants from and for us.”
“For the first time in the country’s history, all 16 Korean dioceses have halted open Masses for two or three weeks. As a Church, we are following government orders and taking part in initiatives to fight the spread of the virus. In my opinion, the government is responding to the emergency in an appropriate manner.”
Following the example of Pope Francis, the Diocese of Daejeon has launched an initiative in favour of the people of China. “The faithful raised about US,000 to buy masks, other protective gear, and personal care products to be sent to China.”
“We want to help our Chinese brothers and sisters, but we couldn’t deliver the shipment. Hence, today we sent it to Daegu. The Church has always led the fight against diseases that have threatened humanity throughout history.
“Christians must undertake other actions in addition to prayers. Even reciting the Rosary every day is enough, or other deeds of charity and penance. Recently, I was touched by the many doctors and nurses – many of them Catholic – who went to Daegu, which is short of medical staff. Some homeowners are also cutting rents to help people. These are signs of great solidarity, stories that move people's hearts.” (PF)