The Catholic Church in Hong Kong takes a series of strong measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
By Linda Bordoni and Marie Duhamel (vaticannews)

The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong has issued a general dispensation from Mass obligation to help the faithful avoid public gatherings and stem coronavirus infections.

The Diocese announced the suspension of public Masses on Sundays and weekdays from 15 to 28 February, and cancelled the Ash Wednesday liturgy that marks the beginning of the Lenten season.

Cardinal John Tong, the Apostolic Administrator of Hong Kong, described the measures as disappointing, but said the decision had been taken “because the next two weeks will be a crucial time to suppress the epidemic.”

So while granting a dispensation to the faithful from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, the Hong Kong diocese is providing a live-streamed Mass so that people can still participate and receive Holy Communion “spiritually,” rather than physically.

Hong Kong has reported 50 confirmed cases and one death. Hundreds of people are now under self-isolation or observation.

French missionary Father Nicolas de Francqueville, who is currently running a Hong Kong parish, told Vatican Radio it’s a time of trial, but he hopes the crisis will help people slow down and rediscover certain values.

Father Nicolas said his parish was getting organized after having received the information that “because of the virus we have to be very careful to the extent we have to suspend all the Masses, for two weeks, until 28 February.”

“It is a strong measure,” he said, “and everyone is quite surprised”, but thanks also to social media everyone is already aware of the measure and of the need to react quickly in order to follow the Diocese’s instructions.

“We will cancel all Masses, but on Sunday we will provide Eucharistic Adoration from 10am to 2pm,” he said, noting that the churches are open so anyone who desires can enter the church and pray on their own.

So while everyone is welcome in the Church, nothing will be organized, including, meetings, catechesis lessons and all other activities that normally take place, “because the main focus is to avoid people gathering in big groups because of the risk of contamination.”

Fear and opportunity
Father Nicolas said many people are worried, even desperate, “but at the same time we know it is a trial.”

He explained that in Chinese, the word “crisis” is expressed with two characters: the first indicates something dangerous, while the second means opportunity.

“So I hope that in this dangerous time of the virus it can also be an opportunity for Christians, and for everyone, to maybe show more solidarity, to slow down their lives which are usually so busy, so that maybe people can be more with their families, have more time to pray, to reflect on the sense of their lives, perhaps spend more time doing other things,” he said.

The French priest concluded expressing his hope that “in this crisis we do not only think about danger and fear, but that we may also trust in the Lord: may it become an opportunity to trust in the Lord and continue to love, as Christ asks us to do.”


POPE FRANCIS TWEETED TODAY: All are called to love and cherish family life, for families are not a problem; they are first and foremost an opportunity.

Today, April 25, is Toot Your Own Horn Day! (If it isn’t, it should be!) – so that’s what I’ll do!

I leave Thursday for the U.S. for what promises to be an amazing two weeks! I’ll be very briefly in Fox Point, Wisconsin for the First Communion of my great-nephew Emory, after which I fly to New York on May 2 where I will spend a week doing book promotions and signings, a bit of television and some radio (for starters). I’ll fly to Washington, D.C. on May 9, doing pretty much of the same, but including some very special events!

I have a feeling this is not the first time you’ve heard of my book – but just in case…!  Here are some reviews of my book, “A Holy Year in Rome, The Complete Pilgrim’s Guide to the Jubilee of Mercy” (I may have posted the Vatican Radio story previously). The second review was written by Monica Knudsen, one of my former French students with whom I had a reunion in Rome (and about which I wrote in early March)!

As I travel, I’ll keep you posted daily on events, offer some photos, etc – will do what I can to keep you informed about any breaking news in Rome. In particular, for those of you who live in or near NCY and DC, I’ll let you know where we can meet – and I’ll sign your book!

And now some news from Pope Francis in Rome and from the Church in China.


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a letter to prisoners detained in a prison in the Italian city of Velletri, a short distance from Rome.

Prisoners at the facility had written to the Holy Father earlier this year, entrusting their letter to Bishop Marcello Semeraro, the Bishop of Albano, during a pastoral visit to the facility. In his response, Pope Francis thanked the detainees for thinking of him, and assured them that they, and others in similar situations, were often in his thoughts as well. He noted that during his Apostolic Voyages, he always tries to make a visit to local prisons. (photo from a previous prison visit)


The Pope noted that during the Holy Year of Mercy, there will also be a jubilee for prisoners, and he assured them that on that day he would be “in communion” with all prisoners “spiritually and in reciprocal prayer.”

Pope Francis also expressed his sympathy, noting that prisoners “are living an experience in which time seems both to be stopped, and to never end.” But, he said, “the true measure of time is not that of the clock”; rather, “the true measure of time is called hope.” He expressed his desire that all those incarcerated might “always keep lit the light of the hope of faith to illuminate” their lives.

“Always be certain that God loves you personally,” the Pope wrote to the prisoners. He encouraged them to never allow themselves to be closed in by their past, but rather to transform the past “into a journey of growth, of faith and charity.” He called on them to “give God the possibility” of making them “to shine” through their experience, recalling that many saints throughout history “have achieved sanctity” in harsh and difficult situations. “With Christ,” he said, “all this is possible.”


Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – A group of dozens of Christians led by Cardinal Joseph Zen has asked the Chinese government to stop demolishing crosses on mainland China and to release religious leaders from jail. The retired bishop of Hong Kong pointed out that freedom is declining even in the former British colony: “We need to speak out, to take action to prevent this from spreading”.


The protests were held yesterday in front of the Hong Kong Liaison Office with China. The Hong Kong Christian Institute, Christians for Hong Kong Society, Christian Social Concern Fellowship and Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Hong Kong were the four groups that protested yesterday. Participants chanted, “respect for religious freedom” as they left flowers in memory of those who have died to affirm this right in China.

The group reminded those gathered that more than 2,000 crosses were removed or demolished in the province of Zhejiang alone since the end of 2013, when the campaign against Christian religious symbols was started by the local Party. In addition, the protesters asked the central government in Beijing to release pastors and priests imprisoned for opposing these demolitions.

Cardinal Zen he was worried the anti- Christian campaign could spread to Hong Kong. “The freedom is less and less. So we have to speak out because we, in Hong Kong, can see the possibility of the anti- Christian campaign spreading from the mainland,” he said.


The Hong Kong protests come one day after the meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and representatives of the United Front (which gathers together all “non-communist” social groups in modern-day China).

During his address, Xi stressed that religious groups must obey the Party: ” Religious groups must adhere to the leadership of the Communist Party of China”. But party members must be “unyielding Marxist atheists,” Xi said, calling on them to “resolutely guard against overseas infiltrations via religious means.”