Catholic Church in Korea Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic
In response to the government guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the CBCK informed all the 16 dioceses of ‘Guideline for Parish to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19’ on March 26, 2020, and each diocese issued its own detailed guidelines. Common key points of them are as followed:
· Those who have similar symptoms of COVID-19 notified by the government, should not attend Sunday Masses regardless of their test results. Instead they were allowed to substitute their Sunday Mass obligation for praying the Rosary, reading the Mass readings and gospel of the day, and practicing good deeds.
· During Mass, it is mandatory to wear a face mask. When offering the sign of peace, the faithful should avoid any physical contact. Confessions must be performed in places with sufficient ventilation, and group activities and gatherings should be minimized.
· Hand sanitizers should be provided at the entrance of the church. The faithful should use their own Bible and Hymn book.
As the Korean government raised COVID-19 alert level to ‘serious’, its highest level on February 23, 2020, all dioceses in Korea decided to suspend public Masses for the first time in 236 year history of the Catholic Church in Korea. Accordingly the Catholic Church in Korea has been streaming Masses through television and radio channels of Catholic Peace Broadcasting Corporation (CPBC), encouraging the faithful to participate Mass in spirit. Masses presided by the Diocesan Bishops on the Paschal Triduum and Easter Sunday were broadcasted live. The Moment of Prayer of His Holiness Pope Francis on March 27, 2020 as well as Paschal Triduum and Easter Sunday Mass were also broadcasted live.
Each diocese has also been providing appropriate pastoral materials to the faithful through media whereas parish priests have been providing sermons and lectures through social network service. A large number of the faithful and priests have participated in raising funds to help those who are suffering from COVID-19 and donated masks and vitamin supplements to medical institutions. When masks were in shortage during the initial period of COVID-19 pandemic, some sisters made masks for the people who are less mobile. The seminaries in Korea have launched online courses for 2020 spring semester.
As the government announced to ease the preventive measures by changing ‘social distancing’ into ‘everyday distancing,’ most of the dioceses decided to resume public Mass between the end of April and the beginning of May. However, Military Ordinariate of Korea has not decided the date yet. Parishes that resumed public Mass have carefully conformed with the following guidelines: limiting the number of Mass attendees, verifying the identity of the faithful, checking temperature before entering the church, using hand sanitizers, wearing masks, and keeping the distance between the faithful.