Ding and Marichu Camales-Torrijos take a short outdoor break on the Diamond Princess. Photo courtesy Camales-Torrijos family

Quarantined B.C. couple relying on faith

By  Agnieszka Ruck, Canadian Catholic News
  • February 22, 2020

VANCOUVER -- The morning routine hasn’t changed for Marichu and Ding Camales-Torrijos since they and all other passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise were quarantined following discovery of the coronavirus on board.

The couple have breakfast delivered by mask-wearing cruise staff, they listen to live updates from the captain about the spread of the virus, they send online messages to family and friends, and they pray.

“We start the day with prayer thanking God that we are symptom-free,” Marichu told The B.C. Catholic Feb. 13. The couple, parishioners at St. Matthew’s in Surrey, B.C., boarded the ship for a Southeast Asia cruise 26 days earlier. It was a gift to Ding ahead of his 65th birthday.

They made stops in Vietnam, Taiwan, China and Hong Kong when on the last day of the trip a case of the coronavirus, also called COVID-19, was discovered on board. The ship was placed on quarantine, docked in Tokyo and anchored for the next two weeks. The Canadian government chartered a plane to repatriate the Canadian passengers, who were scheduled to go into a 14-day quarantine period in the NAV Canada Training Institute in Cornwall, Ont. 

More than 300 of the roughly 3,700 people on board have tested positive for COVID-19, including 32 Canadians. Those infected have been moved to Japanese health facilities. 

There have been more than 73,000 cases worldwide of the deadly virus that was discovered in China and more than 1,800 deaths.

“We are taking this in stride on a day-to-day basis,” said Marichu.

During the quarantine, the couple are confined to their 200-square-foot cabin with no balcony. They must wear masks when their meals are delivered and during the single hour a day they are allowed (according to a schedule announced daily by the captain) to walk outside. The rest of the time they stay inside, praying, sending messages to other passengers through online chat groups and trying to stay positive.

Marichu isn’t aware of any Catholic priests on board the Diamond Princess, but as a lector, extraordinary minister and member of Couples for Christ at St. Matthew’s, she is trying to minister to her fellow travellers by offering an optimistic outlook.

When a fellow passenger in his 80s was taken off the ship and sent to hospital for treatment, Marichu reached out to his wife who remained on board. Through online messages she tried to provide comfort and encouragement. “Without faith, I don’t think I would last this long,” said Marichu.

In Vancouver, Archbishop J. Michael Miller has called for prayers for those suffering from the virus. “As Chinese health and political officials struggle to contain the virus, please pray that they see in the response of the global community a solidarity rooted in Christian charity. May God grant wisdom and healing as the countries of the world work to prevent a global epidemic.”

Though B.C.’s health officer Bonnie Henry has said only four cases of COVID-19 have been discovered in B.C. and the risk is low, some Catholic communities are taking precautions about spreading illness.

Fr. Richard Au, pastor of Canadian Martyrs Parish in Richmond, B.C., has obtained a dispensation from attending Mass for members of his largely Chinese congregation who have recently travelled to regions affected by the virus, have been in contact with anyone who might be infected or are coughing or feverish. Those who don’t attend Mass “must practise other forms of piety for an hour” such as reading the Bible or praying the rosary.

Since the announcement was made public, Au has noticed a decrease in attendance at Sunday Mass, while the hand sanitizer dispensers are in high demand, as are the automatic door openers, with parishioners using their elbows instead of hands to push the button.

“Everyone has someone or has a connection” to someone in Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the virus, he said. The constant information and misinformation about new cases, compounded by fear, has led to parishioners showing up at the church “at nighttime, knocking on the door and pouring their hearts out and their tears out.”

Au is urging his congregation to offer their prayers and Lenten sacrifices “for the people affected, the people who are dying.” 

In B.C., the four people infected with COVID-19 were in isolation and their conditions were stable or recovering.

(The B.C. Catholic)

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