Hong Kong, 30 April (ENI)
Christians in Hong Kong, who experienced the deadly SARS epidemic that killed nearly 300 people in 2003, are showing their empathy with the swine flu victims in the Americas, by praying for them.
Mexican missionary priest, the Rev. Gabriel Altamirano Ortega, has urged Christians in Hong Kong to pray for those infected with swine flu, as well as the people in Mexico, who are suffering from the threat of the virus.
"I asked Christians in Hong Kong to pray for the 22 million people in Mexico City. They are suffering what the Hong Kong people encountered in 2003 – an attack by an atypical viral pneumonia," the Roman Catholic priest says in the weekly diocese magazine dated 3 May.
"When the epidemic attacked Hong Kong, people maintained a high standard in hygiene, while the faithful followed pastoral instructions," says Altamirano. He notes that the "Guadalupe Missioners" offered a Mass for the Mexicans on 27 April at their regular missionary meeting.
The atypical viral pneumonia, which was also known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, hit Hong Kong hard in February 2003, and the city was declared unsafe for visitors by the Geneva-based World Health Organization.
At that time, churches in the territory carried out special pastoral precautions, including hygienic measures such as the wearing of masks by the faithful. Eucharistic ministers were asked to wash their hands with an alcohol-based cleaner before delivering Holy Communion. By the time the WHO declared Hong Kong free from the pneumonia, the epidemic had claimed 296 lives.
Father Benedict Lam, one of a handful of clergy who volunteered to visit an isolated area for the pneumonia patients in the hospitals, said that while the current swine flu creates fear in communities, pastors and the faithful should show their care for people.
At the same time Prawate Khid-arn, general secretary of the Asian ecumenical organization, the Christian Conference of Asia, said in a circular letter on 29 April, "Like HIV and AIDS, the swine or Mexican flu is not only a health and sanitation issue, but another crisis in the life of humankind that challenges us to reflect on its causes and how human beings deal with it."
Prwate added, "This new pandemic must be stopped not only by new medicines, but also by paradigm shifts in our lifestyle."