By Courtney Grogan
The Diocese of Hong Kong has told Catholics to make use of online resources following the cancellation of Masses in response to the coronavirus. Catholics in mainland China, where all places of worship have been closed, are blocked from accessing these resources by the “Great Firewall,” which prevents access to many parts of the internet.
The Hong Kong diocese indefinitely cancelled all public Masses and group religious activities, with the exception of weddings and funerals, in a decision announced Feb. 25. The move follows a prior temporary suspension.
“Believers can make good use of online resources, such as online weekday Masses, faith cultivating information, and other good works of Lent, such as morning prayers, the rosary, the Angelus,” a diocesan statement said.
The Archbishop of Singapore William Goh Seng Chye made a similar recommendation in a Feb. 14 pastoral letter announcing an indefinite suspension of all public Masses. He advised Catholics to “try to follow the broadcast of the Mass on YouTube or CatholicSG Radio.”
In mainland China, where the Communist Government has cancelled all religious gatherings and closed all places of worship, Catholics do not have access to similar online resources. In September 2018, the Chinese government instituted regulations making it illegal for religious services, prayer, or preaching to be broadcast online.
Online evangelization is strictly prohibited, as are materials aimed at converting readers. Catechetical or instructive resources cannot be openly published online and must be restricted to internal networks accessed with registered user names and passwords.
A 2012 analysis published by a Chinese Communist Party think tank scholar identified both religion and “internet freedom” as future threats to China’s rise. Subsequent years have seen crackdowns on both freedom of the internet and religious freedom.
China has long been known for its strict control of information, including restricting internet access and creating alternative social media platforms that are completely controlled by government surveillance and censorship. Twitter, Google, Facebook, and YouTube are blocked by China’s “Great Firewall.”
In the weeks following the coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese government has censored online posts by Chinese citizens critical of the government’s handling of the epidemic.
The official death toll of the coronavirus in China is 2,666; more than 77,780 have been infected, according to the government.
The virus has spread to 33 countries, with about 2,459 confirmed cases outside mainland China and 34 deaths.
As the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in South Korea has grown to 1,261, Korean news sources reported Feb. 26 that public Masses in all 16 Catholic dioceses have been suspended.
In Hong Kong, parishes with suspended Masses have the option to keep their doors open to allow for people to pray individually before the Eucharist and crucifix, but Catholics have been encouraged to stay at home.
The Diocese of Hong Kong has also offered local Catholics an alternative to sacramental Confession during Lent.
“Usually, the Church encourages the faithful to confess during Lent. However, in current circumstances, some faithful may find it risky to go to confession, but they can be sure that a sincere desire to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, together with prayers and works of penance and charity, satisfies the Lenten obligation of repentance,” a diocesan announcement states in Chinese.
Hong Kong is home to around 500,000 Catholics out of a total population of over 7 million. As of Feb. 26, 2 people have died and 81 have been infected in Hong Kong.
“I wish to express again my closeness to the coronavirus patients and the health workers who treat them, as well as to the civil authorities and all those who are working to assist the patients and stop the infection,” Pope Francis said Feb. 26.