Since last Sunday, Masses can be celebrated in various parts of the country, including Bangkok. But not in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, where people will have to wait until 7 June. The “new normal" includes masks, distancing and temperature detection. Priest in the capital notes “great enthusiasm", but also a little unease about precautionary measures.
Bangkok (AsiaNews/ÉdA) – Amid joy and caution, churches have reopened in Thailand celebrating the first public Masses since the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The decision seems to confirm that the outbreak is under control and that new cases are stable or close to zero, this according to experts.
Slowly, the country is moving towards normality, although many observers prefer to speak of a "new normal" with mandatory mask use, temperature detection, movement tracking via smartphones, and forms to be filled when entering a shop.
Catholics have welcomed the reopening of churches last Sunday, but parishes and dioceses continue to preach caution and care.
On 17 May, the Thai government authorised the opening of series of places, including shopping malls, museums and restaurants.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Thailand followed quickly announcing the opening of places of worship the following week in full compliance with rules set by experts to avoid infections.
These include frequently hands washing, even when entering churches, and keeping a distance of at least one and a half metre between people, as well as fewer worshippers allowed inside to avoid crowds.
However, there are differences depending on the area in the country. In Bangkok and Ubon reopening occurred last Sunday, but Masses in Chiang Mai cathedral will only resume on 7 June, said French Jesuit Fr Olivier Morin. After two months of absence, lay people and priests are preparing to live such a moment with joy mixed with concern.
Ms Thongpan Panduang, 68, from Yasothorn, northeastern Thailand, noted that "when I heard the news [. . .] I felt relieved, free and full of joy.”
Fr Sarayuth Konsupap, a Jesuit from Xavier Hall parish in Bangkok, could hold back his “great enthusiasm" for the resumption of Masses, because "we can finally meet again. Without the faithful, I had the impression that everything was empty.”
For the clergyman, despite some unease, being in community is primordial for Catholics. “I think a lot about the additional precautionary measures and actions that we can take to avoid the risk of infection.” For instance, outside Bangkok cathedral worshippers are given protective masks.
At present, religious freedom and the reopening of places of worship are not the main topics of conversation, protecting oneself and others from contagion is.
According to official data, the number of people affected by coronavirus in Thailand is just over 3,000, with 57 deaths.