"Digital Church" in Asia, amid coronavirus emergency
di Santosh Digal
Catholic Bishops across Asia have advised the faithful to attend Church service through live streaming or masses aired live on cable, local television networks, radio stations, online and social media. They also urged people to invest more time in prayer, recite Rosary, devote time in personal prayer reading the Bible and do other spiritual practices.
Manila (Agenzia Fides) - The coronavirus decease (COVID-19) pandemic has affected more nations than the World Wars. The exponential crisis and challenges posed by the outbreak are not normal. The outbreak has impacted every aspect of life—family, social, business, governance, education, economy, religion, to name a few.
During a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities of every kind have urged the public to make a positive difference in the world to protect humanity. It is also, a clarion call people that all collectively grapple with what this global pandemic means so that people limit the risk of passing along the infection to others.
One of the ways to contain is a principle of restraint with firm resolve by staying home now and practice social distancing. Consequently, in-person meetings, conferences, gathering, works and religious services have been canceled and are being scheduled for virtual business meetings, conferences and works and virtual religious practices in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
In this unique time in the world, church authorizes around Asia, like in the Philippines, India, Japan, Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Vietnam, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and in many parts of the world including the Vatican.
Undoubtedly, church authorities in these countries have navigated their people to stay at home as a protective and preventive measure during the crisis that uncovers new challenges for one and all.
At a very practical level, the church officials stressed to focus on social distancing as an important tactic for slowing the spread of illness for all. So, the “virus checks,” for instance, have taken on a whole new meaning in light of this moment in terms of social interaction and religious practice. People are directed to turn to technology to keep their faith in a time of crisis in this unprecedented moment as it is a great responsibility of all to help each other.
These turbulent times have paved a way for “digital or virtual church’ across the nations as extreme or enhanced community or self-quarantine are in place in many countries and all public Masses and other church services and programs are canceled in a bid to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“There is a lot of fear and panic in the world right now. Fear only fuels more fear. Remember that one cannot control what is happening in the world, but one can always control how you respond to it,” Mary Catherine Park (24), a South Korean Catholic youth, told Fides.
“This is a time to be united as one nation, lock in prayer and bow down on our knees to pray for one another,” she added.
Local bishops across Asia have advised the faithful to attend church service through live streaming or Masses aired live on cable, local television networks, radio stations, online and social media.
They also urged people to invest more time in prayer, recite Rosary, devote time in personal prayer reading the Bible and do other spiritual practices.
“Now is the time to turn our homes into domestic churches and parents to be catechists of their children following the outbreak of COVID-19,” said Bishop Julito Cortes of the Diocese of Dumaguete in Negros Oriental, the Philippines.
“We have a grave responsibility for the health, safety, and well-being of our People. Therefore after consultations, I have decided to cancel all public Masses, liturgies and related ceremonies,” he said.
The bishops also asked the faithful to intensify prayers, even more, using the Oratio Imperata as a guide. With more time at home, he encouraged the Faithful for more time in praying the Rosary, offering Holy Hour especially for the protection of families, for those who have died, are sick and the health personnel.
Fides talked some people across Asia to know the pulse of Catholics about ‘digital church’ as they sustain their unwavering faith in the case of confusion.
“Since we cannot gather physically due to lockdown, a pandemic can be time to rediscover love and kindness. We only experience a virtual form of communication with one another. Instead, we should discover a new closeness to God and another. More concrete relationships made of attention and patience," said Catalina Eustaquio-Lucman, a Catholic dentist based in Manila, the Philippines.
The government-ordered lockdown aimed to “slow down the spread of the virus, to stretch it over the months and gain time,” she added.
Fabian Leow, a Malaysian teacher said that with the lockdown imposed by the government people need to be considerate.
“For me, we can do prayers by all sorts not only inside the physical structure of the church. This turmoil will not last. It is just prevention for the common good. This is one of the perfect uses of technology. To be united, be focused, reflect and spread His words may be online. God will perfectly understand.” He said.
Last Sunday, Leow and his family attended their first-ever online Mass. “We prayed like how we would pray inside the church. It was a bonding time for my family as we listen to the gospel and pray for our nation and the world. With the community quarantine in effect, we still went on our Catholic duties as a family. It does not need to be in church,” he added.
In times of crisis, people are to hold on to their faith especially now that what the world is dealing with is something very dangerous. “Not just to us but to the whole world. Praying gives us a sense of calm during this uncertain time,” he quipped.
“It is not as fulfilling as physically attending Mass. During this time, we need more prayers but we are restricted. I hope people will take this seriously and pray more, and strengthen spiritual communion with each other, said Manuel Chai, another Catholic from Kuching diocese, Malaysia.
For a Catholic in Vietnam, Joyce Nhe, “Since our family members are at all home, we try to eat together as a family. We usually use this time for catching up on the activities of the day since two of my kids are in online classes. We try to assure them that this too shall pass.”
Since this is a time of difficulty, but Nhe can also proactively say that attending online Masses together with the whole family is also a time for bonding together and growing together as a family in understanding the true essence of discipleship and Catholic faith. This also brings opportunities for each family member to strive in following the Lord with selfless love and service for others.
She also said that it is good that online Masses are available for those who need it. She believes that it is important especially during this time to be able to continue to practice faith, which would help strengthen family’s bond through prayer.
The same is for Rebeca Dela Cruz, a Filipina migrant working in Singapore.
“It is a good option to still fulfill one’s spiritual needs at the safety of one’s own home in these trying times. It helps one’s religious faith, knowing that we can still reach out to God no matter where we are, as long as He is in our hearts,” said Dela Cruz.
“It helps to keep one’s faith, reminding us that God is everywhere and we can always find a way to connect to him. It also helps that we as a community are praying for God’s guidance during these times,” she added.
She also gets the opportunity to spend more time together, guiding the children of her employer and using this as extra quality time taking care of the family as well.
According to Goreti Chiu, an Indonesian, “It is a unique experience hearing Mass outside the church. It has made us realize more than our faith in God is the only thing that can get us through any obstacle or dilemma.”
“Since we are restricted in going out we have more time to spend with our love ones, do the things that we have always wanted to do together like reading, watching and eating,” she added.
Aung Kaung Kha, a college student from Myanmar, said, “Our parish has been holding online masses and I think even without being physically present in the church. Hearing the Mass online allows me to reflect and pray without worrying about catching the virus. There is less distraction because it is quiet and more private in my home. The spiritual communion makes me feel blessed too. The experience of opening oneself to listen to God can happen anywhere.”
He and his family pray the rosary every day now, and it makes them think that they do rely on their faith to invoke God's mercy especially during trying times. “When this is over, I plan to continue praying the Rosary every day or as often as I can,” he added.
Being physically in the house longer than before does give time for the family to converse, do things together, and enjoy activities together.
In his family though, bonding is always there even at times when they are apart due to their preoccupations, he said.
Amid the coronavirus disease outbreak, Catholics in Asia and elsewhere look life and challenges in the light of faith and feel its essence as a universal character in a state of “Digital Church.”