By Vatican News staff reporter
With just days to go until the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to plague the country.
To date, Japan has recorded 848,000 infections and more than 15,000 deaths which has forced the revision of all programmes on the calendar, and is preventing viewing by spectators in the stands.
Pastoral programme cancelled
The health security measures also affect the local archdiocese, which has announced the cancellation of a pastoral programme designed to accompany athletes and all participants during the Games.
In a note, the Archbishop of Tokyo, Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi, explains: "It was planned that each parish could take care of the spiritual needs of all athletes, but now we have decided to cancel these initiatives", due to security issues.
Among the events, planned by a special diocesan Olympic Committee, was an international Mass to be celebrated in the local cathedral and the creation of a special Rosary to be given to all participants in the Games. But now the Tokyo metropolitan area has been placed in a state of emergency by the government; as a result, athletes will not be able to leave the Olympic Village, nor will priests have access to it.
Call to respect anti-Covid measures
Archbishop Kikuchi is therefore inviting all places of worship to respect the anti-Covid health measures and is urging athletes "to refrain from visiting churches", because the commitment of the Catholic community and of everyone must be to "prevent further contagion". "We have implemented security measures," the archbishop reiterated, "because we take seriously the responsibility of everyone to protect not only their own lives, but also the lives of others, preventing the spread of contagion. The liturgical celebrations will still be broadcast online.
The archbishop’s note, however did conclude with a sign of optimism: "The rainy season is over in Tokyo, and last night a rainbow appeared in the sky", a symbol of hope,” he said.
Timeline of Olympic Games
Initially scheduled for 24 July to 9 August 2020, the 32nd Summer Olympics were postponed from 23 July to 8 August this year due to the pandemic. The opening ceremony will be held on Friday, at the National Stadium in Tokyo, at 8 p.m. local time. It will be followed by the 16th edition of the Paralympics from 24 August to 5 September 2021, also postponed by a year due to the health emergency.