The Tokyo Olympic Games are getting underway in one of the world's biggest cities, but there will be no spectators - and none of the usual spiritual support from churches.
The Olympics are normally a time when local churches roll out events, evangelistic outreach and chaplaincy for competitors and spectators, Christian Today reported.
There is, however, a state of emergency in Tokyo and expanding COVID-19 cases, and the local Catholic archbishop has told churches to avoid having visitors and planned activities for the Games which were originally to have taken place in 2020.
The Catholic Archbishop of Tokyo, Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi, confirmed the decision in a letter to churches in his archdiocese
Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi has called on Olympic athletes and other visitors to avoid visiting churches as part of restrictions to curb the spread of the pandemic.
"The archdiocese had originally been considering preparations so that each parish may be able to address the spiritual needs of the many people who will come to Japan for this international event," Archbishop Kikuchi said on July 12, UN, UCA news reported.
"However, we have decided to cancel all plans and will not take any special involvement in the Olympics and Paralympics."
VISITORS ASKED NOT TO VISIT CHURCHES
Kikuchi said those visiting the metropolitan area of Tokyo and Chiba with a population of nearly 20 million people will be requested to refrain from visiting churches.
He said the archdiocese has made a commitment that "we will not be infected, nor will we allow others to be infected."
"Let us keep in mind that it is an important duty for us to protect not only our own lives but also to protect all those who have received God's gift of life," said the archbishop
His appeal came as Japan declared a fourth state of emergency including the city of Tokyo ahead of the Olympic Games, which begin on July 23, and the Paralympics, which begin on Aug 24.
Spectators have been banned from Olympic events and urged to watch on TV.
Several religious bodies will set up a multi-religious center in the athletes' village where they can pray and meet religious leaders.
Before the pandemic restrictions began, the religions were preparing several such centers at the request of the Games organizing committees.
The archdiocese has issued guidelines over services.
A limited number of people can enter churches while maintaining a one-meter distance, churches must have sufficient ventilation and all Mass goers must leave churches promptly after services and refrain from talking to one another.
1 MILLION HOURS OF PRAYER
Still the Japan international Sports Partnership (JiSP) and Japan Evangelical Missionary Association (JEMA) are leading Christians in Japan and asking the world for one million hours of prayer for their nation throughout the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics..
They are calling on churches, individuals and families across the world to unite in prayer for Japan as it takes centre stage from the Opening Ceremony on July 23.
"While the opening ceremony marks the beginning of sporting glory, we want to open the Olympics in prayer and give all glory to God," said Akira Mori, a Japanese Pastor.
Japan is largely a secular society with most of the 124.68 million people stating some affilation to Buddhism and Shintoism and some 1.5 percent of the people adhering to Christianity.