Archbishops’ Message about Holy Week and Easter
23 March 2020
Dear brothers and sisters in the Archdiocese of Tokyo:
Infections due to COVID-19 has become widespread on a global level, and there is not a day without reports in the daily news about the increase in the number of infected and dead people, whether domestic or abroad.
As we pray for eternal rest for those who have died, let us also pray for the immediate recovery of those who are infected by COVID-19 and those who are currently receiving medical treatment. At the same time, we only have words of gratitude and appreciation for the excellent work of the scientists and those in the medical profession who work hard day and night responding to the situation and being involved in the treatment. Let us pray for their good health.
With the spread of COVID-19 infections at a global level, countries around the world seem to have fallen into a state of isolation. However, we hope especially during this time for the realization of a world where political leaders transcend their differences, and in trust cooperate with one another. It is also our hope that political leaders give priority to protecting all life, taking actions to ensure that not one person be forgotten from the different aspects of life.
And as we live our Christian faith, we never lose hope in the power of prayer, thus we continue to pray in our respective places, bound together in faith.
This Lent, we are faced with a difficult challenge never had been before. Although we may agree that such is due to the spread of COVID-19, it is very unfortunate and it feels painful that the faithful are not able to attend mass nor receive Holy Communion during this Lent.
Certainly, the suspension of “public masses” does not mean that the Church community has collapsed. In the midst of facing this crisis, we are reminded to be aware and to inscribe in our hearts that we are all united together in faith. United in prayer, and in solidarity in faith with our brothers and sisters building up the body of Christ, let us shine out of darkness with the light of Christ, the source of life. As the Lord promised when he sends off his disciples, he will always be with us until the end of time (Matthew 28,20).
This crisis gives us the opportunity to be aware of living out our faith. During these difficult times, we are called to renew our faith, to reaffirm the meaning of the Sacred Host and the Holy Eucharist, to participate in the act of Spiritual Communion, and to reflect on the things we ordinarily take for granted in our spiritual life.
We are not alone in living out our faith, but rather we are bound together in community in the one body of Christ. It is especially during this time that our bond is most important. In community, we are called to protect all life. Now more than ever, compassion is necessary to protect not only one’s own life, but to protect the life of one another. We think of the various situations such as medical experts fighting against infections due to COVID-19, patients fighting against the illness, people whose lives are endangered by the present social and economic conditions. Now is the time for us to protect all lives with our fervent prayers and genuine concern for one another.
To date, the Tokyo Archdiocese has issued two advisories appealing for precautionary measures against COVID-19 infections.
And following the cancellation of public masses in the Diocese of Hong Kong on 13 February, discussions were made with Catholic medical experts, and in consideration of the view of the Expert Meeting of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare on 24 February, we decided to suspend public masses for the first time. Moreover, based on the discussions during the Presbyteral Council Meeting on 9 March and taking into account the opinion of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare’s Expert Meeting on the same day, it was decided to extend the suspension of public masses.
Concerning cases of COVID-19 infections, it has been reported that many of those who became infected and are now recovering did not manifest any symptoms. The big problem, however, is that many of those infected can remain asymptomatic and be a potential source of COVID-19 infections.
The Expert Meeting of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has pointed out the following environment where infections can easily spread:
“The locations where mass infections were confirmed so far are places where the following three conditions were met simultaneously: (1) closed space with poor ventilation, (2) crowded with many people and (3) conversations and vocal communication in close proximity (within arm’s reach of one another).”
As precautionary measures against influenza epidemics in the past, people with fever or those feeling sick are treated at home, whereas those who are healthy may gather at the Church without any problem. However, with COVID-19, it is possible that even those who show no symptoms can in fact be infected such that asymptomatic patients can cause severe symptoms to others, especially when transmitted to the elderly, and those with chronic illness.
Therefore, the primary reason to refrain from attending public masses is not to prevent oneself from becoming infected, but rather to avoid the possibility of becoming a source of infection without being aware of it and of putting others at risk.
Soon we shall begin with our observance of the Holy Week. Taking into consideration the opinion of the government’s Experts Meeting, the Archdiocese of Tokyo issued appropriate precautionary measures on a separate announcement.
We are now about to face a Holy Week we never experienced before. Give importance to every day of the Holy Week. Make sure you reflect on the daily readings. Pray together. Let us entrust ourselves to the power of the Lord, who triumphed over suffering and gained the glory of the resurrection. As we contemplate once again on the meaning of living out our faith, let us pray to our compassionate God the Father, that this situation may all come to an end as soon as possible.
We seek refuge under your protection,
O Holy Mother of God.
Do not despise our pleas
– we who are put to the test –
and deliver us from every danger,
O glorious and blessed Virgin.
(From the prayer of Pope Francis)
Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi, SVD Archbishop of Tokyo