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Hong Kong bishop uneasy over services amid Covid surge

Bishop Stephen Chow calls on Catholics to live the Lenten spirit and appeals for help for isolated elderly people

Hong Kong bishop uneasy over services amid Covid surge

Bishop Stephen Chow wants more help for isolated elderly people. (Photo: AFP)

Published: February 28, 2022 09:18 AM GMT

Updated: February 28, 2022 11:01 AM GMT

Bishop Stephen Chow of Hong Kong has expressed doubts about having Ash Wednesday services in the city's churches and asked the government to provide more options for isolated elderly people at shelters and hospitals as the pandemic rages in the city.

“The government policies protect them with physical isolation. Still, their mental and psychological well-being has deteriorated significantly as they have been isolated from their loved ones for the last two years,” Bishop Chow said in his Lenten message on Feb. 27.

After the highly transmissible Omicron variant affected healthcare facilities and proved hard to control, Hong Kong reported a record 26,026 infections with 83 deaths on Feb. 27. More than 67 deaths were reported at nursing homes.

Vaccination rates among the elderly are relatively low as many of them suffer from chronic illnesses.

Bishop Chow, who was appointed by the Holy See in May last year, said Hong Kong has a good number of elderly people who are yet to be vaccinated against Covid-19. They have become jobless and are dying without being accompanied by loved ones.

“Besides the government, we have to render them the essential protection, assistance and hope,” the 63-year-old prelate said in the letter to the city’s 400,000 Catholics.

I could feel the disappointment of Catholics because of their inability to pray in the soothing tranquility of their churches during such a worrisome time

Following the mainland with a "dynamic zero-Covid" strategy, the administration in the Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region has imposed stringent Covid-19 restrictions to cope with the spike in infections.

The current outbreak has hit its public health system, forcing the administration to construct hospitals.

Authorities said they would come out with a rapid testing plan that would allow people to test from home. Health Secretary Sophia Chan said about 1.3 million rapid testing kits would be made available in high-risk areas in the city of 7.4 million.

“Due to the government’s new measures to curtail social interactions, the diocese temporary closed all churches and chapels for public worship. The authorities have banned even conducting online Mass at churches. Regrettably, this was our first time to adopt such a stringent approach,” the bishop said.

Bishop Chow said his “heart was heavy” when he announced the closure of churches on Feb. 8.

“I could feel the disappointment of Catholics because of their inability to pray in the soothing tranquility of their churches during such a worrisome time," he said.

“I could also feel the mounting anxiety with a deepening sense of helplessness in the people around me. When would this come to an end? When could we reclaim our ‘normal’ lives back, if ever.

“There is a temptation to blame God for not helping to stop the pandemic. This should be resisted to prevent ourselves from despair. We do not know when this pandemic will be over. Nevertheless, we can do our best to do good and introduce the love of God to more sectors in Hong Kong.” 

In the message, the bishop expressed doubt over conducting Ash Wednesday services in churches.

“Although we may not be able to receive ashes on this Ash Wednesday during the pandemic, we will be living in the Lenten spirit of conversion — loving beyond ourselves through adversity,” he noted.

Bishop Chow urged the faithful to encourage more elderly to get vaccinated and follow good hygiene practices, including proper use of masks and sanitizers.

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