The novel coronavirus emergency in China and other countries was the subject of prayers at the Auckland Chinese Catholic Community Lunar New Year Mass.
The Mass was celebrated by Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn at Our Lady of Perpetual Help church in Herne Bay on February 8. Five priests concelebrated — Frs Peter Choy, Francis Poon, Martin Wu, Anthony Malone, OFM, and Francis Lau, who was visiting from Hong Kong.
The Chinese Lunar New Year for 2020 — ushering in the Year of the Rat — took place on January 25, but the Auckland Chinese Catholic Community decided to wait until Fr Choy, its chaplain, returned from Tahiti (his home diocese) to celebrate the occasion.
At the Mass, Bishop Dunn said in his homily that those “who are born during the Year of the Rat are said to be inquisitive, shrewd and resourceful”.
“We pray that scientists with these qualities will soon find a way to control the spread of the coronavirus, which is bringing fear to so many in China and around the world during this New Year season.”
On January 31, the World Health Organisation declared a global health emergency.
“The main reason for this declaration is not what is happening in China but what is happening in other countries,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a report on the BBC website.
The concern is that it could spread to countries with weaker health systems.
As of February 14, there had been 60,416 confirmed cases worldwide, with 1370 deaths, as well as 8043 listed as in a severe condition and 6210 recoveries. All but 588 of the cases and three of the deaths were in mainland China. Most people infected experience a mild illness, a Radio New Zealand article stated.
As NZ Catholic went to press, there were no confirmed or suspected cases in New Zealand. However, the Ministry of Health confirmed the first case of the virus on February 28, 2020.
At the Auckland Mass, Fr Choy told the congregation that we “continue to pray for departed brothers and sisters with this coronavirus. And for all the medical people, doctors and nurses and volunteers, trying to fight against this virus. May God bless all of them, all the people of good will in China and elsewhere”.
After the Mass, Auckland Chinese Catholic Community chairman Bernard Mak told NZ Catholic that everyone is concerned about the coronavirus situation, not just the Chinese community.
However, he did not know of anyone from the local Chinese Catholic community currently in Wuhan, the centre of the health emergency.
But there have been reports in local media about an increase in casual racism against Chinese people in New Zealand since news of the health emergency broke. Mr Mak said that “I guess we are all a bit concerned [about that]”.
“But I still feel that it is OK,” he added, “I have lived in Auckland for a long time, I actually graduated from Auckland University (in computer science). I don’t actually feel it so far myself.”
A lunar new year dinner for the Auckland Chinese Catholic Community planned to take place after the Mass was cancelled. Mr Mak said this was in line with the precautionary approach taken by the wider Chinese community, in consultation with local government authorities, in cancelling the annual Lantern Festival at the Auckland Domain.
NZ Catholic understands that there were also some concerns among Chinese Catholic community members at having to ask individuals or families if they were suffering any illnesses before they could attend the planned dinner.
The National Liturgy Office has sent out a letter to parishes regarding the novel coronavirus and its possible impact in New Zealand in relation to the reception of Holy Communion. Should outbreaks of the virus be recorded in New Zealand, up-to-date information and clear procedures will be implemented, the letter stated.
Reminders were given over possibly taking Communion hosts and not the chalice, the raised risk of infection by taking Communion on the tongue, restricting bodily contact at the Sign of Peace for people at risk, and health precautions for extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist.
While it is not necessary at this stage to impose uniform practices, this will be done if necessary, the letter stated.
“At this time, all parishioners are asked to take precautions to ensure their own good health and the safety of others. Parishes will be asked to take extra cautions if these are deemed necessary.”
During his Sunday Angelus address on January 26, Pope Francis expressed condolences to the victims of the virus and his support for efforts to fight its spread.
“I wish to be close to, and pray for, the people who are sick because of the virus that has spread through China,” the Pope said. “May the Lord welcome the dead into his peace, comfort families and sustain the great commitment by the Chinese community that has already been put in place to combat the epidemic.”