Holy Week celebrations cancelled in Metro Manila; Luzon on lockdown

People prayer at the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Parañaque City, the Philippines, on March 11. Photo: CBCPNews/Elmarc Lim

MANILA (SE): The bishops of Manila, the capital of the Philippines cancelled all liturgical celebrations during Holy Week, including pilgrimages and devotions in response to a government directive suspending all gatherings from March 15 to April 14 due to the rapidly spreading Covid-19 coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

“There will be no blessing of palms, Visita Iglesia (church visitation), Siete Palabras (Seven Last Words), Good Friday Procession or Easter Salubong,” the bishops said in a pastoral letter issued on March 16. The Easter Salubong, or meeting, is the re-enactment of the Virgin Mary’s first meeting with the resurrected Christ.

“There will be no celebration of Holy Mass within the period, including the conduct of liturgical rites with the participation of the public,” Bishop Broderick Pabillo, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila said. People are urged to stay at home and follow activities on television, radio or online.

Catholic media groups are discussing how best to serve Catholics during Holy Week, such as with Masses and online retreats. Dioceses have also begun livestreaming Masses and Lenten recollections.

On Sunday, March 15, Masses were livestreamed in dioceses throughout Metro Manila. 

On March 13, Bishop Pabillo suspended all public Masses from March 14 to 20, after Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, announced a 30-day lockdown on Metro Manila on March 12. This was later escalated to an “enhanced quarantine” encompassing the island of Luzon on March 16, the Inquirer reported.

The initial restrictions on domestic travel by land, sea and air into and out of Metro Manila resulted in chaotic scenes with thousands of commuters crammed at checkpoints at boundaries between the metropolis and the surrounding towns and provinces.

Cabinet secretary Karlo Nograles, reading a memorandum from executive secretary, Salvador Medialdea, said private establishments providing basic necessities and such activities related to food and medicine production would remain open, the Inquirer reported. These would include public markets, supermarkets, grocery stores, convenience stores, hospitals, medical clinics, pharmacies and drug stores, food preparation and delivery services, water refilling stations, manufacturing and processing plants of basic food products and medicines, banks, money transfer services, power, energy, water and telecommunication supplies and facilities.

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Though people cannot attend religious celebrations during this period, Bishop Pabillo said, “This does not mean that we no longer can come to the Lord,” as he encouraged people to strive to be in “touch with him through fervent prayer.”

Church bells in Manila are to toll at noon and at 8.00pm for seven days to call on all people to pray the Oratio Imperata prayer for protection and deliverance from Covid-19.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, in a pastoral issued on March 10, reminded people not to forget the poor who barely have access to basic services, as they are the “most vulnerable,” CBCPNews reported on March 11. He stressed that more attention must be provided to poor families who are living in cramped spaces and deprived of health benefits and hygiene facilities. 

Archbishop Villegas cautioned against the “epidemic of godless fear of the unknown,” as he asked the faithful to return to the “basics of our Catholic faith.”

The archbishop stressed, “Let us not leave God out of the threat of Covid-19. Our first combat gear against all sickness is prayer. There is no cure without God willing it. We cannot win over sickness without God.”

Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), reminded people to keep their faith in “a time of crisis” in a statement dated March 14, UCAN reported.

“This is a time of difficulty but also a time for growing in true discipleship as we strive to follow the Lord in selfless love and service of others,” Archbishop Valles said.

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, the CBCP’s vice-president, said that although it is difficult to celebrate Mass without the faithful, it is a way “to keep each other safe, yet still present for one another.”

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A list of online Masses being streamed on YouTube and Facebook is listed on the CBCP website at https://cbcpnews.net/cbcpnews/list-of-online-masses/

Meanwhile, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines expressed concerns with its president, Raymond Mendoza, saying, “Widespread uncertainty is brewing among the daily paid workforce across industries over the lack of company guidelines and deficient policy in the event government imposes mandatory workplace lockdown and occurrence of work-related contamination in the light of growing epidemic,” further noting that many workers are bound by a no work, no pay rule.

Mendoza pointed out that workers are concerned over management silence on whether those who are sick and must undergo a 14-day quarantine would be paid and would receive remuneration for their medical and hospitalisation expenses, the Inquirer reported.

A Filipino diplomatic staffer also became the first recorded case of Covid-19 at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York, the United States, the New York Times reported on March 13. The Philippine mission to the UN is now on self-quarantine.

As of March 17, there were 140 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the Philippines and 12 fatalities. However, worldwide, over 79,113 people had recovered from the illness. 

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