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China closes churches in face of spreading coronavirus

CHINESE MASS
Johannes EISELE | AFP
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The Communist Party also banned all group religious activities.

The government of the People’s Republic of China has closed all of the country’s places of worship and banned all group religious activities in an effort to fight the spread of COVID-19, the coronavirus disease that has claimed over 2,700 lives in the country.

“The party committee and government have unified requirements to suspend the opening of religious venues, suspend all collective religious activities, delay the opening of religious schools, strengthen publicity and guidance for religious people, actively donate goods, and do a lot of work to win the fight against epidemic prevention and control,” said an official statement.

Catholic News Service reported that government religious regulators said religious groups should “adhere to the health of staff, believers and members in the first place, and make sure they have deployed and purchased disinfectants, hand sanitizers, masks, etc. They have ordered testing and disinfection of public areas.”

The virus, which is believed to have first emerged in Wuhan in central China, has infected more than 80,000 persons around the world. By Wednesday, four new countries (Algeria, Austria, Croatia, and Switzerland) had reported cases of COVID-19.

The World Health Organization announced Wednesday that for the first time, there have been more new cases reported from countries outside of China than from China.

Meanwhile, in the autonomous Chinese territory of Hong Kong, a Catholic leader has compared the isolation in which the people find themselves because of the epidemic to the wilderness experience of lent.

Cardinal John Tong of the Diocese of Hong Kong said in his lenten letter that some people have responded to the coronavirus outbreak by “rushing to buy pharmaceutical items and foodstuffs,” while others have shown “generosity” by treating the sick and donating masks and supplies “to those in need.”

For this reason, the liturgical period that began on Ash Wednesday is a “training school” to love “God and our neighbors,” AsiaNews reported.

As we face “the temptation of the wilderness,” Cardinal Tong wrote, let us “listen to the Word of God again and again, instead of the inclination of our [own] selfishness,” That way, “we will be freed from self-centeredness, fears, individualism, and mistrust.”

And if “we could put our hope in the love of the Father,” the Holy Spirit “will also inspire us to transform the desert,” he said.

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