First Catholic church to reopen in country

Parishioners attending mass at St John Marie Vianney Church after it reopened.

SOME silently shed tears, some quietly said a prayer while others were clearly overjoyed when the main doors of St John Marie Vianney Church in Tampin, Negri Sembilan reopened for mass after a closure of three months due to the movement control order (MCO).

Parishioners of the Catholic church, the first in the country to reopen since the MCO, were so eager to attend mass that they arrived as early as 7.30am even though the event was only scheduled to start at 9am.

Parish priest Father Peter Anthoney said 30 parishioners who were given prior approval to attend mass had adhered strictly to all rules issued by the church committee and the standard operating procedures (SOP) by National Unity Department and the National Security Council.

“Today is a joyous day for all of us as we are able to reopen for mass.

“The parishioners were lost for words to describe how happy they felt being able to attend mass in church again.

“You could see on their faces how much they had yearned for this moment, ” he said, adding that the mass was held in accordance with the Archdiocesan Guidelines for the Celebration of Sacraments.

Built in 1956, this Catholic church is the only one in South East Asia dedicated to the patron saint St John Baptist Vianney.

On May 28, the government gave the green light to 174 non-Muslim places of worship to reopen under strict SOP from June 10.

Approval was given to one Buddhist temple, three Roman Catholic churches, 64 Evangelical churches, 84 Hindu temples, eight Sikh gurdwara and 14 Taoist houses of worship.

Of the three Catholic churches selected by the authorities for reopening, only St John Marie Vianney Church was allowed to reopen on June 14.

On June 15, the government said 5,230 houses of worship for all faiths nationwide could reopen.

Father Anthoney said a thorough disinfection of the premises was carried out prior to reopening.

“Safe social distancing markers were placed for sitting inside the church, while a body temperature scanner and hand sanitiser were placed at the main entrance.

“Only parishioners whose names were registered with their respective basic ecclesial communities (BEC) leaders were allowed to enter the church compound which was guarded by Rela personnel and church volunteers, ” he said.

He added that parishioners were not allowed to loiter on the premises before, during and after mass.

Each Sunday, parishioners from two BECs and aged between 12 and 70 will be allowed to attend the weekly mass.

Father Anthoney thanked the government for allowing the church to reopen.

“We would also like to congratulate the government for its success in stemming the spread of the virus and consequently enabling us to attend church.

“The authorities have taken painstaking efforts to curb the Covid-19 outbreak and for that, they deserve an applause, ” he added.

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