S. Korea’s religious groups halt services amid coronavirus spread

Posted on : 2020-02-25 17:32 KST Modified on : 2020-02-25 17:46 KST
5 Catholic dioceses undecided on whether to suspend mass
Myeongseong Church in Seoul’s Gangdong District. (Hankyoreh archives)
Myeongseong Church in Seoul’s Gangdong District. (Hankyoreh archives)

South Korean religious groups are halting weekly services to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The Archdiocese of Daegu was the first Catholic body to suspend masses on Feb. 19, with the suspension lasting through Mar. 5. The Diocese of Andong tentatively suspended masses on Feb. 22, after a case was confirmed there.

Daegu and Andong were joined by the Archdiocese of Gwangju, also on Feb. 22; the Diocese of Suwon, on Feb. 23; and seven dioceses (Cheongju, Busan, Incheon, Jeonju, Chuncheon, Uijeongbu, and the Military Ordinariate), on Feb. 24.

The announcement by the Military Ordinariate brought the total number of dioceses not holding mass to eleven. There are still five dioceses that haven’t decided whether to suspend masses: the Archdiocese of Seoul and the dioceses of Daejeon, Wonju, Masan, and Jeju.

The dioceses that have suspended masses are asking believers to pray the rosary’s five decades of and read the scripture instead of attending mass and have announced that all events, meetings, and educational programs at churches have been suspended.

The Catholic Church in Korea has temporarily suspended ordinary communion for the sick but will continue to administer extreme unction to those who are gravely ill. The sacrament of confession will also take place not in closed confessionals at churches but in well-ventilated open spaces.

While mass and other ceremonies will not be held on Ash Wednesday (Feb. 26), the first day of Lent, believers are instructed to fast and abstain from meat, spending Lent in a spirit of penitence and temperance.

Churches that do hold mass have been instructed to keep the service as short as possible; those in attendance are urged to wear masks, keep a certain distance from each other, and refrain from singing hymns or reciting prayers together.

Buddhist temples and Protestant churches suspend services

Similar steps are being taken by Protestant groups. A large number of churches in Daegu — where COVID-19 is spreading — have suspended their services for the time being. In Busan, East Busan Church and Sooyoungro Church, near Haeundae Beach, also tentatively closed as of Feb. 23.

In Seoul, Myeongseong Church has postponed special early morning services, originally scheduled for Mar. 3-7, until May. These services are held for a week every spring and fall for all members of the church.

South Korea’s Buddhist organizations have canceled all mass meetings, events, and services —including those scheduled for the first day of the month according to the lunar calendar — as well as educational programs and visits to sacred sites. Temples located in the mountains have also been temporarily closed to the public.

The temple stay program organized at 137 temples around the country will be suspended until Mar. 20.

By Cho Hyun, religion correspondent

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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