May 1, 2009

12CN: Mexico's Adventists Cancel Church Services in Wake of Swine Flu Outbreak

Mexico’s Adventists Cancel Church Services
in Wake of Swine Flu Outbreak
Services set for Internet, television; schools also closed
BY LIBNA STEVENS, news coordinator, Inter-American Division
capIn the wake of the global swine flu pandemic, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Mexico is taking measures to reduce the probability of an outbreak reaching its institutions and churches.

The country's four major Adventist church regions have canceled church services throughout its 2,571 congregations and suspended classes in the 230 Adventist schools and two universities, following the federal government's mandate to shut down large gatherings and all public and private schools through May 6.

swine 1

As classes were suspended, dorm students, faculty and staff at the Adventist-run Montemorelos University wear masks as a preventive measure against the swine flu which has killed over 150 people in Mexico recently. [Photos: Montemorelos University/IAD] 

"We have sent out information to our [regional administration] and our local pastors and church members to take proper health precautions and wait for further notice on when our churches will resume church services," said Tomas Torres, president of the church in Central Mexico, with headquarters in Mexico City.

Torres said that camp meetings, conventions, and traveling outside of the country were also canceled due to the flu threatening the territory.
"We are taking the necessary measure to be of support if the situation worsens," he added.

Swine influenza, or “swine flu," is “a highly contagious acute respiratory disease of pigs, caused by one of several swine influenza A viruses,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO), a United Nations Agency. On April 29, the WHO raised the pandemic threat level from four to five; the next day, it reported 11 countries have officially reported 257 cases of influenza A (H1N1) infection. The United States government has reported 109 laboratory--confirmed human cases, including one death. Mexico has reported 97 confirmed human cases of infection, including seven deaths.

Cesar Gomez, president of the Inter-Oceanic Seventh-day Adventist church region, said his membership of more than 155,000 was reminded to take preventive measures to stay healthy.
"We have notified our churches, which are mostly structured into small groups to meet with their groups, until churches are opened once again," Gomez said.

Similarly, church leaders throughout the country have suspended their church services and events and have sent recommendations to church members to take serious measures and follow the instructions of Mexico's Ministry of Health.

Adventist-owned Montemorelos University has also closed its doors to its more than 2,000 students through May 6. School officials said the move is preventative; no cases of swine flu have been reported in the northeastern state of Nuevo Leon.

"We are concerned with a possible outbreak, but the university community here is informed on what precautionary measures to take if symptoms arise and our hospital is serving the community as usual," said university President Ismael Castillo.

Although offices and certain services are operating at the university, church services this weekend will be held behind closed doors and transmitted through the university's television network and the Internet.

Leaders for the church's Inter-American region are following the developments related to the flu outbreak in Mexico, home to roughly 500,000 Adventists.

swine 2

Classes and church services throughout Mexico have been halted.

"We are very concerned with our members in Mexico, and have been in constant communication with our church leaders there," said Israel Leito, president of the church in Inter-America. "Our church leaders have made the necessary decisions for the benefit of our church members and their communities."

The flu outbreak could affect the church's Inter-American Executive Committee scheduled for May at its Miami, Florida, headquarters. Leito said administrators are considering other options if travel to the United States from Mexico and Central America becomes restricted.

Leadership at the church's world headquarters complex are following protocol and monitoring developments. More than 800 people are employed at the building in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States, and many of them travel internationally.

"We're taking the necessary precautions here in the building while being sensitive to not raise unnecessary fears," said Orville Parchment, assistant to the president of the General Conference.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church, which organized its General Conference in 1863, is active in more than 200 countries and territories around the world. More than 25 million people attend Adventist worship every week.