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[Newsmaker] Churches respond to government’s recommendation of stricter social distancing

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Monday holds a pangovernmental meeting on coronavirus responses at the Seoul government complex (Yonhap)
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Monday holds a pangovernmental meeting on coronavirus responses at the Seoul government complex (Yonhap)

Churches showed different responses to the Korean government‘s urging of stricter social distancing before schools are due to restart on April 6.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Seoul on Wednesday announced that it has decided to suspend holding Mass and other large group activities until April 5.

“We take the current situation very seriously so we have decided to delay our original plan and start our Masses from April 6, when elementary, middle and high schools start,” Cardinal Yeom Soo-jung, Archbishop of Seoul, said in a statement.

“We originally planned to start Masses from April 2 while following the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines, but the government strongly recommended stricter social distancing ahead of the school’s new academic year,” Yeom added. “So, we decide to delay our original plan.”

On the same day, the archdioceses of Gwangju and Suwon also announced that they would not hold Masses until April 5. The Archdiocese of Suwon also noted that even when Masses resume, they would hold no other group activities until the end of April.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun has not responded to a demand for an apology from a Protestant church group.

The United Churches of Korea on Wednesday demanded Chung’s apology for pointing to churches for the spread of the coronavirus.

Chung on Monday warned that the government would issue an administrative order to ban gatherings if churches did not abide by the virus guidelines as they continue to operate.

“The churches’ actions seriously hurt the safety of not only individuals attending the services, but also communities,” Chung said at a pangovernmental meeting on coronavirus responses on Monday.

The United Churches of Korea official also said that the government has been underestimating the voluntary cooperation of Korean churches.

“On March 22, some government officials and police officers visited our local churches without warning and watched and interrupted staff who were preparing for online worship services. This is an unprecedented act of distrust and violence against churches,” the Protestant church group official added.

The group noted that among its over 60,000 member churches, only 10 had congregants infected with the virus.

The United Churches of Korea membership includes more than 30 different religious groups, including the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Korea. Its members are estimated to account for more than 90 percent of Protestant churches here.

By Song Seung-hyun (