Dajia Matsu Pilgrimage to kick off Thursday under tight controls

CNA file photo

TAIPEI (CNA) — The Dajia Matsu Pilgrimage, Taiwan’s largest annual religious procession, will begin Thursday, but will adopt special measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including a livestream of the event to reduce the crowds.

The 340-kilometer procession through four municipalities, organized annually by Taichung’s Jenn Lann Temple to honor the sea goddess Matsu, was planned for March 19-28 but was postponed due to fears about the spread of COVID-19.

However, with the pandemic now contained in Taiwan and some restrictions lifted, the temple said Monday that the procession would be held June 11-20, starting in Taichung City and winding through Changhua, Yunlin and Chiayi counties.

Nonetheless, the procession has been limited to 800 registered participants, who will be required to have their temperatures checked daily and to wear face masks at all times, the temple’s Vice Chairman Cheng Ming-kun (鄭銘坤) said Monday.

At the opening ceremony at 11 p.m. Thursday, the Taichung City government will deploy 1,800 police officers for security and crowd control, along with some 3,000 sanitation workers.

During a visit to Jenn Lann Temple Wednesday, Interior Minister Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇) urged the participants to wear masks, wash their hands and pay tribute to Matsu simply by clasping their hands and bowing.

Some of the other rituals of the Matsu Pilgrimage, such as pilgrims weaving under Matsu’s sedan chair or prostrating themselves as the chair passes over them, are strongly discouraged this year, as is touching the sedan chair, Hsu said.

Similarly, lunchboxes are the only food offerings that should be left along the parade route, Hsu said.

Meanwhile, in Chiayi’s Xingang Township, where the procession is expected to arrive Sunday, the number of free banquets provided for pilgrims this year will be reduced from around 20 to two, according to the county government.

The county said pilgrims are required to register and to have their temperature checked at the temples and schools along the way where they will be given lodging. Hand sanitizing stations will also be set up along the parade route in Chiayi, the local government said.

Meanwhile, in light of the COVID-19 risks this year, deputy chief of the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) Chen Tsung-yen (陳宗彥) on Wednesday urged the faithful to follow the procession via the livestream, rather than attending in person.

Health Minister and CECC Commander Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who has spent considerable time in recent weeks promoting domestic tourism, said he did not plan to attend the opening ceremony on Thursday because he had other commitments.