Shincheonji leader Lee Man-hee (Yonhap)
The Shincheonji Church of Jesus -- epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Daegu City -- announced Saturday that it has replaced its ceremony to mark the 36th anniversary of foundation with an online worshipping service.
A considerable number of its followers -- under fire from mainstream Christian churches as a cult -- were linked to the infection spread in Daegu as they had held assemblies and meetings. As of Saturday, 62 percent of the confirmed cases turn out to be related to Shincheonji followers.
In a statement Friday, the group announced that it will hold an online anniversary event, and also hold upcoming worship services via the internet, until the virus crisis ceases.
“The (relationship of) church and believers are like parents and children and, for the church, there is nothing more important than the wellness and safety of our members,” the statement read.
“Many believers who have contracted the virus, are suffering and worried and we want to make clear, there is no reason for us to resume religious gatherings and offline services.”
As for the about 5,400 believers in Daegu who were released from self-quarantine on Thursday, Shincheonji said it has prohibited them from all kinds of meetings and assemblies, and instructed for active cooperation with city authorities when needed. The group also said it will impose strict punishment if the members disobey.
Shincheonji Church of Jesus branch in Daegu (Yonhap)
Daegu, which has been hit hardest by the epidemic outbreak, has put the Shincheonji followers in the city in self-quarantine for two-weeks from Feb. 17, as part of its efforts to contain the virus.
The Shincheonji sect started on March 14, 1984, by Lee Man-hee in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province. Last year, about 20,000 followers participated in the founding ceremony in Jamsil, Seoul.
On Thursday, Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin said the city is cooperating with the police and is monitoring to check for possible meetings of Shincheonji members in the area.
The city issued an administrative order last week to ban all Shincheonji followers from holding meetings and events.
Gwangju, which reportedly has the most number of Shincheonji followers -- about 32,000 -- said it is also keeping an eye for secret gatherings.
By Jo He-rim (email@example.com