Written by Carmelo Ferlito, CEO of Center for Market Education

First published in Free Malaysia Today on 18 January 2020

I was positively surprised by how the Malaysian government decided to relax the movement restrictions that have deeply impacted many lives and businesses throughout the nation. A number of scientific studies have shown that lockdowns have no significant impact on the spread of Covid-19.

As long as an effective cure is not found, it seems that the best solution we have now is to lead near-normal lives while also protecting those vulnerable, as claimed by the Great Barrington Declaration.

In line with this, Senior Minister for Security Ismail Sabri Yaakob had recently stated that “life must go on” and that “we have to learn how to live with the virus”, hinting that the damages from a prolonged lockdown can be far greater than the ones due to Covid-19.

However, this does not mean that we have to live irresponsibly. It is actually a call for greater individual responsibility. Everyone needs to step up and take the necessary precautions to safeguard not only themselves but also their loved ones.

With the Christmas week approaching, we will see many parks reopening, including Zoo Negara. Nothing like the open air and sunshine (Vitamin D) to help boost our immune system, together with a good amount of Vitamin C.

A cloud, however, sheds a shadow on such a promising scenario.

Archbishop Julian Leow Beng Kim had announced there would be no sacraments and masses for Christmas, forcing Malaysian Catholics to be deprived of what they hold most dear during the most prominent period of the year, after they were forced to renounce Easter earlier this year due to the lockdown. He made this announcement even though the latest government SOPs allowed churches to reopen.

Around the world, churches are fighting against restrictions from their respective governments, while in Malaysia, we find ourselves in the peculiar situation in which the suspension of masses is decided and prolonged by the archdioceses and not the government.

Without downgrading the risk posed by the rise in Covid-19 infections, as a Catholic, I ask His Grace the bishop: “What do we hold most dear? Can we really live a true life without sacraments for the fear of the virus?”

As a cancer patient, since 2016 I was forced to deal with the horizon of an early death in a very concrete way and I feel more scared by the thought that I may die without receiving the sacraments.

Again, I ask: “What do we hold most dear?”

Is it not Jesus in the Eucharist that gives meaning to all our otherwise meaningless actions? Is it not Jesus who gives meaning to our relationships, families, works? Should our faith, experience and life be determined by fear or trust? Should we not live our life by trusting that Jesus is holding our hands?

This does not mean we should not take precautions. But if there are SOPs for every little gesture of our daily routine, up to the absurdity that people think they can escape death, can we not implement and enforce SOPs for our eucharistic life? What about the availability of more masses but of shorter duration?

Catholics should be witnesses of hope and love, bringing to the world the message of a life that defeated death. I then ask how it is possible that the Malaysian church gave up on this message, suggesting to the faithful that we should live in fear like mice hidden in our hole. Does this not mean that we do not believe any more in what we preach?

What is a safe life if deprived of what gives meaning to it?

It is time for His Grace Bishop Leow to reflect upon these issues, recognising that he is forcing Catholics to live in a way that even the government is not asking of them. And, most importantly, these decisions put doubts into their hearts.

How is it possible that we can go to restaurants, supermarkets and zoos but we do not have access to what gives meaning to all these things? Even science is not supporting these choices anymore.

Time for a change in pace, dear Bishop Leow.