– Marco Carvalho

The decision, announced by the Diocese of Macau on Tuesday, to keep churches closed and religious services suspended until the 6th of March will affect the preparation of the children and youngsters that attend catechism in the nine local parishes, Father Daniel Ribeiro acknowledges.

The young priest told O Clarim that the local Catholic Church has not yet discussed the impact that the extension of the contingency measures against the novel coronavirus may have in the preparation of all those who will receive, in about three months, initiation sacraments such as First Communion or  Confirmation.

Ribeiro, who is in charge of the Pastoral Care for the Portuguese Language Communities, does not rule out the possibility to replace the meetings that had to be canceled due to the epidemic outbreak: “Catechists will assess whether children and young people are prepared to receive the sacraments in the proposed period. Confirmation is scheduled for Pentecost and the First Communion for the Corpus Christi, but once that the situation in Macau is still very undefined, those responsible for catechism have not yet taken any decision on how to prepare these children,” the parochial-vicar of the Cathedral of the Nativity of Our Lady told O Clarim. “However, it is very likely that these children and teenagers will have to sacrifice some of their time, so that they can have extra catechism meetings,” he claims.

Daniel Ribeiro sees as a “great loss” that children and young people “have to be a month without catechism,” but says, nevertheless, that the exceptional circumstances that the Special Administrative Region faces should also be seen as an opportunity: “The first catechists of these children and adolescents are the parents themselves,” the young priest recalls. “This is a very opportune period – and I would like to launch an appeal in this regard – for parents to catechize their children. These are difficult times for society, but there are some positive aspects to it. One is that families have the opportunity to spend more time together,” Father Ribeiro maintains.

In the chancery notice published on Tuesday, the Diocese of Macau determined that the celebrations regarding the beginning of Lent – namely the Ash Wednesday liturgy – will also be suspended, but Daniel Ribeiro believes that the decision, despite depriving Catholics of a moment of great symbolism, will not affect the way the local faithful experience such an important period: These “[Ash Wednesday] celebrations have a great symbolism because people receive the ashes and the ashes remind us of who we are, that we came from the dust and to the dust we will return,” the the young Brazilian priest explains. “The way people live their faith is not interrupted just because the Churches are closed,” the parochial-vicar of Macau’s most important parish believes.

Daniel Ribeiro stressed that the period of Lent is conducive to an enhanced experience of three of the most significant principles of the Christian faith: penance, prayer and charity. The young minister claims that the fact that churches remain closed does not prevent Macau’s Catholics from living the precepts of Lent in a pious way: “For instance, when it comes to penance on Fridays, people should avoid eating meat and they should do some penance on their own terms. The Catholics should be able to educate themselves; they need to learn how to have self-control. Even though the churches are closed, it is possible to opt for penance. Penance has this sense of educating us for self-control,”  Father Ribeiro illustrates.

The Diocese of Macau moreover, reinforces the invitation to penance and abstinence. In the notice published on Tuesday, Catholics “aged 14” are invited “to observe abstinence” on Ash Wednesday, an invitation that is extended to all the remaining faithful between the ages of 18 and 59 years.

The Diocese also invites the local Catholics “to watch the live broadcast of Mass at home, meditate on the Scriptures, and practice other pious devotions such as saying the Rosary, exercise self-discipline, mortification, penances, reduce entertainment and perform charitable works.”

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