Religious communities in Tokyo adopt new worship styles to tackle COVID-19

Churches and mosques are adopting new measures when conducting weekly religious ceremonies so as to prevent the spread among worshippers of the new virus that causes COVID-19.

Some religious institutions have decided to close their doors and broadcast services over the internet, while others are conducting services for small groups only.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Tokyo has suspended Sunday public masses through the rest of March, deciding instead to livestream them. “It is an unusual measure, but we made the decision to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” said an official.

The decision was made because many parishioners are of advanced age and so are considered some of the most vulnerable to the pneumonia-causing virus, first identified in China. It also decided that it would have been hard to limit the size of congregations, as tourists also attend mass.

“Let us pray for the coronavirus to stop spreading,” said a priest, as Sunday mass at Sekiguchi Church in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, livestreamed on YouTube with only nuns in attendance. “Amen,” parishioners typed in response.

“I was surprised because canceling mass is unprecedented, but I am thankful that I can participate in this fashion,” said Kuniko Yoshioka, 60, who watched it on her computer at home.

Muslim religious institutions are taking similar precautions to prevent large gatherings of worshippers. The Japan Muslim Association said all public Friday prayer services at a mosque in Shinagawa Ward in the capital would be canceled, and that it has not been decided when they will resume.

At Otsuka Mosque in the Toshima Ward of Tokyo last Friday, worship continued but in small groups with attendees wearing masks.

Usually around 300 people attend Friday prayers, but the mosque decided to hold multiple services from Feb. 28 to reduce the numbers gathering at any one time. Last Friday, prayers were held in groups of around 50 people.

Announcements were made before the prayers calling for the faithful to greet each other with elbow bumps instead of hugging or shaking hands.

“I suspect few people oppose infectious disease control measures, since we are used to washing our hands and feet to purify our bodies before prayers,” said Haroon Qureshi, the mosque’s secretary general.

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