When 2 Covid-19 cases at a church hit a little too close to home in tiny S'pore

It's going to happen sooner or later, to someone we know. Or even to us.

Jeanette Tan| February 15, 08:00 PM

I was still on leave from work when two pieces of big news (at least for me) hit:

1) that Singapore's Catholic Archdiocese had made the decision to suspend all of its masses starting Saturday (Feb. 15) noon, and

2) that one of the newly-diagnosed nine cases announced on Friday (Feb. 14) evening is a young man who attended a Catholic church in the time before he was diagnosed and isolated.

Another case was also linked to this same church the next day.

The first came to me through a flurry of messages from two or three Catholic WhatsApp groups I'm part of (disclosure: I'm Catholic), which I confirmed by checking the official Archdiocese Telegram channel, as well as

target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">its Facebook page: a letter from Archbishop William Goh, no less, with the official archdiocese crest and everything.

This was stunning enough for me, even though it comes after measures that I already found pretty significant and unprecedented in the preceding weeks — exempting those who are even mildly ill from their weekly Sunday mass obligation, for instance, and stopping catechism classes (the Catholic equivalent of Sunday School for school-going students) as well as parish canteens.

And the news left many of my fellow Catholics in shock and lost, with some even believing the archdiocese was potentially overreacting to the situation — especially since we aren't even at DORSCON Red yet.

I shared this announcement with my colleagues, who were busy covering the latest government updates on diagnosed Covid-19 cases, and we put out a story to alert Catholics who might not have seen the internally-circulated announcements.

It proved to be significant enough news for the mainstream media to report on as well.

But any curiosity I had over why the archdiocese had come to this extraordinary, unprecedented decision went away (somewhat) as I pored over details of the newest nine diagnosed cases released by the Ministry of Health on Friday evening.

A tiny detail that took on huge implications for me

Here are the details of Case #55:

Which, I now vaguely suspect (because there really isn't much way I can confirm this), is a big part of why the archdiocese decided to take this step.

More significant, though, at least to me, is the fact that of the 30 other possible parishes this 30-year-old man could have gone to for Mass, he went to the one I belong to: the Catholic Church of Christ the King (CTK) on Ang Mo Kio Avenue 8.

I couldn't believe my eyes, to be honest, when I read that detail, which even listed the clear address I recognised from decades of seeing it on every parish bulletin letterhead I picked up and glanced over every Sunday when I walked into church for mass.

It was one thing, in the week or so prior to my going on leave, and even reading the daily updates on newly-diagnosed cases, to read about clusters emerging from the likes of the Paya Lebar Methodist Church, as well as the Grace Assembly of God — these were, if I'm honest, eventually names of places I wasn't familiar with, people I didn't know (because I didn't know anyone who went to either of these churches) — sufficiently distant from anything I knew, from me.

But it was entirely another to read the name and address of my own parish listed within a paragraph or two of the details of one of our newest confirmed Covid-19 cases.

And then many thoughts ran through my mind

Who is this guy? Might I know him? He's just a year or two younger than me — it's definitely likely that I, or at least one of my church friends, may know, at the very least, who he is... if not know him personally.

It was also very troubling to read that two of his older relatives were also diagnosed with Covid-19. Are they a Catholic family that attends mass at CTK together?

It would emerge in new details released on Saturday evening that his older female relative (case #6X) did go to CTK as well.

My next thought was to inform everyone at CTK whom I knew: my parish young adult community friends, my former ministry friends, my relatives whose parents served in various ministries there. I wasn't sure what the eventual point would be of doing that, but I knew it was important for as many CTK parishioners as possible to be aware that we had a confirmed case who went for mass there.

My thoughts then turned a little more, ashamedly, selfish: When exactly did he go for mass? Did he go every week? At the same time, or different times? Did I ever go for mass at the same time as him while he was infected? Did any of my friends or fellow parishioners whom I might know attend mass or sit near him when he was there?

And then I started transferring blame: Why haven't we heard from anyone from the parish? Are the parish staff and priests doing anything to trace the parishioners he might have come into contact with when he attended mass? Did he serve in any ministry? Would those people be affected too? Have they been informed about his diagnosis?

And perhaps, in an odd transference to myself: Should we quarantine ourselves voluntarily just in case, since there is no way any of us can know when he went or if we met him?

But what can/do we do, really?

Less than 24 hours on from learning and sharing the news of these events, I've already seen people online taking potshots at Christians.

But the sheer lack of information I have about this 30-year-old man who went to my parish reminds me of the sheer lack of reason for significant panic, too.

How can we blame him, especially if he didn't know he was sick at the time? So much has been documented about the virus's asymptomatic features and lengthy incubation period, and at the same time, so little is known about how lethal or harmful this actually is to us at all.

Is it really worthy of all our panic, wearing masks when we're not sick (yes, I'm among the population of vulnerable individuals, but yet I don't wear a mask because I'm not sick) and holing up at home — worse still, blaming those who are now diagnosed and infected with the virus without knowing how or why?

Sure, my Sundays for the foreseeable future are going to feel a bit weird, with my husband and I tuning into a live stream of the Mass at home instead of going to church. My friends and I, in texts we exchanged, all shared the small anxiety we felt both by the revelation and the little information that exists about the diagnosed case.

But one thing we all agreed on also is how close this hit to home for us — a reminder, too, of how small our island really is. As far as I know, I don't know (and I'm not sure my friends know) who it is, but I hope anyone who does know him provides him and his family the support they truly need now.

Top photos via Christ the King Singapore Facebook page

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