03/18/2020, 15.29
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As Malaysia reports its first two COVID-19deaths, Abp Leow notes people are ‘united in Christ' despite separation

by Joseph Masilamany

The number of infections now stands at 673. Hundreds of people from Southeast Asia were infected at an Islamic meeting. The government has adopted special measures to counter the spread of the virus. The archbishop of Kuala Lumpur tells parishes to “support and care for the needs of the vulnerable”.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – Malaysia's health authorities have confirmed another 120 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of cases to 673. Of these, 622 are in hospital, 12 in intensive care. Some 49 Malaysians have recovered, but the government yesterday announced the first two deaths.

Two days ago, the authorities adopted special restrictive measures to counter the spread of COVID-19. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin placed all Malaysians under a Movement control order (MCO)  from 18 to 31 March and ordered the closure of all borders.

Amid the emergency, the Catholic Church is speaking out. Archbishop Julian Leow of Kuala Lumpur yesterday released a pastoral letter urging Catholics to remain firm in their faith and united in the person of Jesus Christ.

Of the new cases confirmed by the authorities, 95 are linked to a religious outreach meeting (tabligh) held at the Jamek mosque in Sri Petaling (Kuala Lumpur) between 27 February and 1 March that attracted about 14,500 Malaysians and 1,500 foreigners. The event is believed to have infected hundreds of people from across Southeast Asia.

According to the government, two thirds of the infections in Malaysia are linked to this meeting. Brunei announced that 50 of its 56 cases are also connected to it. Singapore has confirmed five, Cambodia 13 and Thailand at least two.

One of the first two Malaysians to die from COVID-19, a 34-year-old ethnic Malay man, also took part in the tabligh. The other person to die is a Baptist pastor in his sixties, originally from the eastern state of Sarawak.

The emergency has forced the government to take major restrictive measures. The archbishop of Kuala Lumpur followed with a message to the Catholic community.

Although “we are physically separated from each other during this period of social-distancing, we remain closely united in the person of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.” As “St Paul reminds us (Rom 8:38-39): ‘For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things,* nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth,* nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’”

In light of the government’s MCO, Archbishop Loew also issued new directives, noting that the measures already contained in the pastoral letter released on 12 March by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Malaysia will remain in force until next 31 March: public services, gatherings, meetings, and catechism are suspended; churches and chapels are closed; and priests will celebrate masses in private.

In addition, whilst the archdiocesan and parish offices will be closed, parishes must provide emergency lines available for pastoral assistance and support. Sacraments such as confession, anointing of the sick, and holy communion will be reserved for critical cases.

The archbishop’s message goes on to “call upon all BECs (Basic ecclesial communities) to mobilise their joint resources, in collaboration with their respective parish Integral Human Development ministries, to support and care for the needs of the vulnerable, the elderly, the sick, those who are living alone, those who have been affected financially by this crisis, and the family members of the health-care providers who are in the frontline battling this pandemic.

Lastly, Mgr Leow has cancelled of the Chrism Mass (set for 31 March). “We will evaluate the situation to determine if there is a need for postponement to another date. Further directives with regards to the Holy Week Celebrations, the celebration of the Easter Mysteries (Sacraments of Initiation), will depend on the development of the crisis and further direction from the civil authorities.”

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