By ILONA ANDREW
PENAMPANG: Finally attending holy mass inside the church building on a Sunday is a welcome bit of normalcy for Roman Catholic churchgoers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Albeit the strict standard operating procedures (SOP) put in place such as social distancing and mandatory face cover, parishioners were seen adhering well to the new norms today.
At St Michael’s church in Penampang, capacity is now limited to 350 from 1,200 to observe the social distancing guidelines and because of that, anyone who wish to attend the mass will have to pre-book a seat through the church community in their respective kampung or residential area for the following weeks.
According to Rev Father Jeffri Gumu, two masses will be held on Saturday and four on Sunday, and registered parishioners are free to choose their slot from either one of the masses.
The masses, he said, are scheduled weekly according to zone and those who are from the certain zone can attend the mass as long as their pre-booking is done at least a day or two in advance.
“Whoever wish to attend the mass must first communicate with the church community to register their slot and the registration will be done on a weekly basis,” he told BorneoToday after the worship mass here Sunday.
Those who have registered will be provided with a ticket which includes their details. Before entering the church, they will need to show the ticket at a counter to gain access before getting their body temperature checked.
Wardens will be tasked to assist and usher the parishioners to their seats according to the markings that are placed at the benches as well as on the floor to ensure that social distancing is observed.
For now, children below the aged of 12, senior citizens above 70 years old and above, as well as those vulnerable to illnesses are still not allowed to attend mass for health purpose.
“Those who cannot attend can still participate in the holy mass via the online broadcast (livestreamed on Facebook) at 7.30 and 10.30am on Sunday.”
While traditional communion is provided for in-house mass attendees, the St Michael’s also offers drive-through communion service for Christians under the Penampang parish.
The drive-through service has been done by several churches across the globe amidst the Covid-19 outbreak.
Following the end of the mass, from 11.40am to 12.30pm, Catholics who have participated in the livestream are invited to drive their cars to a selected spot in front of the church to receive communion bread.
“All of these (procedures) are a trial and we will have to look into the response and feedback of the parishioners before moving to another development,” Father Gumu said.
He disclosed that the church received 298 registration for the 10.30am service and still allowed about 70 walk-ins, but unsure of the exact numbers of parishioners who attended the mass.
Meanwhile, the mass at the Our Lady of Fatima church at Kampung Talang Taun started at 11.30am but began seeing excited parishioners coming in an hour before.
The capacity of the small church in the village resided by mostly Kadazan natives is 150 but only one-third of the usual capacity is allowed to ensure social distancing is observed.
Just like St Michael’s Church, the parishioners that mostly comprised residents of Kampung Talang Taun had to pre-book their seat through the church community.
Irene Liew was excited to finally able to attend holy mass after months of using the webcam technology that parishes developed during the movement control order (MCO) at home.
“I come here with my family today. The whole time the church was closed, we only participated in the livestreamed holy mass,” said the 52-year-old who is also part of the church committee.
According to her, the SOPs are similar to those put in place by other churches. Among them were social distancing, checking of body temperature and hand sanitisers provided at the entrance.
“Since only 50 are allowed at one time, we will attend the mass in rotation. Those who manage to attend this week will have to make way for those who missed the mass, next week.
“Those who are not here today can still participate in the live streaming provided by other churches,” she said.
Liew expressed hope that the vaccines for the Covid-19 virus would soon be found so that things can go back to normal and Christians can start attending holy mass with ease.
Another parishioner, Nicholas Dosonal, thanked those in charge of putting the SOPs in place for making it possible for people to attend the church service.
“It has been so long since we last been to the church and I am happy because the Christians are finally able to celebrate the mass together today.
“I hope the holy mass service can be continued from now on… but we have to find a way for those who are not allowed to attend holy mass such as the elderly because I am certain that they too yearn for it,” said the 55-year-old civil servant.
Another parishioner who who is happy to be back inside the church is the chairman of the church himself.
Noirom Dony who spoke in Kadazan said, there had been no holy communion although he had been following the weekly online service at home.
“I am thankful and honoured that churches are finally allowed to reopen today. It has been more than three months since the last holy mass. I am also happy that we will finally be receiving the body of Christ today,” he said.
The 50-year-old lecturer also hoped that the parishioners will be able to abide by the SOPs although it is not easy.
“We have to adapt with the new norms, and I believe everyone have understood the SOPs well.”
Similar masses were held at all Catholic churches in the Diocese of Kota Kinabalu following clearance granted by the ArchBishop Datuk John Wong.