Sunday, September 26, 2021

Sarawak Christians flock online for Good Friday, Easter

Health SOPs keep physical congregations skeletal but not everyone has the internet access needed to follow church services online.

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Every Good Friday, Grace Brandah follows a simple routine. She spends the day fasting and then goes to church for evening Mass.

This year, she fasted as usual but the Covid-19 pandemic has turned everything else upside down.

Grace lives in Kampung Mambong, in Kuching, Sarawak. Like several other states in the country, Sarawak remains under conditional movement control order, with strict SOPs and health measures in place to curb the spread of Covid-19.

In green and yellow zones, churches are allowed to open at 50% capacity with physical distancing of at least one metre between congregants.

But Kuching itself classified as a red zone, which means that only 20 people are allowed in churches or cathedrals at any given time.

This is a far cry from the thousands who would normally attend service, Kuching archbishop Simon Poh told MalaysiaNow.

Before the pandemic, he said, his cathedral would be packed with anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 worshippers per service.

“Even the car park would be occupied by people coming to pray,” he said.

But now, the majority of these congregants must move online, where masses and services are live-streamed to individual homes.

On normal weekends, some 25,000 to 30,000 worshippers follow services online. This being Holy Week, which began with Palm Sunday last week and culminates in Easter Sunday today, Poh expects about 70,000 online congregants.

Some will be allowed to physically attend service, but subject to the 20-person limit. Services will also be monitored to ensure strict compliance with health SOPs.

“Though congregations are not allowed in churches in red and orange zones, the designated 20 church leaders will represent us to pray during this Holy Week for all people in Sarawak, our nation and the world during this global pandemic,” Poh said.

Those like Grace who must follow the service from home are grateful that technology allows them this much. But they look forward to the day when they can reunite with their fellow church members.

“The feeling of joy is when you can go for Mass and venerate the cross,” the 24-year-old told MalaysiaNow.

Holy Week under lockdown

In Siburan, a small town in Serian, the villages of Kampung Chupak and Kampung Batu Gong have been under enhanced MCO since March 27. This, the strictest form of lockdown which allows zero movement in and out of housing areas, will continue until April 9.

Limping Ak Engki, the head of Kampung Batu Gong, said many residents in the area are now struggling with intense financial difficulties.

“During Holy Week, the move has disrupted my daily work,” he told MalaysiaNow. “I don’t have workers to help harvest the crops. Now, with the lockdown, all I do is stay at home.”

They are also feeling the constraints of having to attend church virtually as internet coverage at the villages is slow and patchy.

“Usually we gather at church for Good Friday and then Easter Sunday,” he said.

“Now, with the lockdown, most churches have gone online but the problem is my area does not have internet reception.”

Pakon Ak Amit from Kampung Chupak readily acknowledges that the lockdown is for the villagers’ own good. But he also realises the impact it has had on their lives.

“We cannot go to the market or to work,” he said. “This pandemic has really hit hard for those of us who depend on daily wages.”

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