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His Grace John Wong on MCO and the celebration of Holy Week

Q: Is this the first time the biggest celebration in Catholic Church celebrated without congregation present in church?

Abp Wong: Yes, as far as I know, this is the first time the Catholic Church celebrates Easter without the presence of the congregation.

Q : Naturally, majority of Christians would be utterly devastated not to be able to attend Holy Week celebrations, but of course they understand why. How do you feel about this personally, celebrating the holiest celebration without the people present?

Naturally I feel sad. It is like a parent celebrating a family feast day without the presence of his family members. The Holy Week is the holiest week of the year for Christians. It is a time when we commemorate the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ through the celebration of solemn liturgies in the churches around the world. Without the physical assembly of the congregation, the liturgy loses its warmth and fellowship. It is in this sense that I feel sad.

Q: What do you have to say, advice or words of encouragement, to the congregation over their disappointment?

My advice to the Catholics is, first of all, abide by the Movement Control Order for the common good of all in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. As the MCO is extended to 28th April, 2020, I can feel the sense of loss of our Church members in terms of their being deprived of being personally present at the Holy Week liturgies from 5th to 12th April. In view of this extraordinary situation, the Sacred Heart Cathedral and other parishes of this Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu have made arrangements for the LiveStreaming of the Holy Week liturgies for the benefit of our church members. It is, therefore my hope that the posibility for them to participate virtually through the social media, would serve as a consolation for their sense of loss. All they need is to have the necessary gadgets and they can participate in these liturgies fervently with the whole family at home. I believe that such spiritual communion with God and with the whole Church during this time of pandemic will reinforce their faith. It is of course our hope and prayer that we shall have normalcy in our church celebrations in the near future.

Looking at things positively, although the doors to our places of worship are closed, the worship has entered to the many Christian homes. The worship has moved from churches and chapels to the homes of Christian families. Hence, I take the opportunity to encourage members of all families to come together and to invite Jesus to come, not only into the family, but more so into one’s heart. For those who might not have the required gadgets in the rural areas, for instance, they too can come together as a family to read and meditate on the Word of God, for Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in their midst.” So, let this Unique Opportunity be a time to strengthen, renew and intensify our hunger for the Sacraments of the Lord.

Q:        How many Catholics are there in Malaysia?

There are about 1.29 million Catholics in Malaysia, roughly 3.3% of the total population of the country. We have three archdioceses and six dioceses that are spread all over the country. Each archdiocese or diocese is under the pastoral leadership of a bishop. On July 27, 2011, Malaysia became the 179th state to establish diplomatic relations with the Holy See. We now have an ecclesiastical office of the Catholic Church in Malaysia, known as Apostolic Nunciature, with the rank of an embassy, in Kuala Lumpur.

Q:        Will there be live streaming, as it is now with Catholic Masses, of the Holy Week celebrations?

Yes, there are LiveStreaming of the Holy Week liturgies in English, Bahasa Malaysia, Kadazan, Chinese and Dusun languages. I have informed all  parishes in the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu regarding the timing of the services through my pastoral letter dated 27th March 2020.

Archbishop John Wong

11th April 2020

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