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Catholic observance of World Day of the Sick tweaked due to virus scare

The scare induced by the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) caused some tweaking in the annual observance of the Catholic Church’s World Day of the Sick in Manila.

Instead of the anointing of sick people who attended the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, an exposition and procession of the Blessed Sacrament was held at the Manila Cathedral on Feb. 11.

The World Day of the Sick is usually marked with the Anointing of the Sick, a sacrament of the Catholic Church that is administered to those “in danger due to sickness or old age.”

“They just told me that we had to change it. If it were up to me, I’d rather [stick to tradition],” said retired Bishop Teodoro Bacani, who led the Mass celebration.

A group of elderly attend Mass to mark the observance of World Day of the Sick in Manila on Feb. 11. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

“I was told by the master of ceremony to avoid personal contact,” said the prelate. “I was surprised actually. I would have preferred to have the ‘Anointing of the Sick.'”

He said the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is done, “but it’s still different when you have the Anointing of the Sick,” which is a sacrament personally being received by the sick.

Marilen Picornell, one of the event organizers, said the Mass for the sick was supposed to have been cancelled after the country’s Health Department advised the public to avoid crowded places.

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“The priests said the Mass should push through so we just took precautions,” said Picornell, adding that the organizers also wanted to make a statement that they are not afraid.

One of the precautionary measures was not to allow people admitted to the hospital to attend the observance in the church.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines earlier came out with guidelines on the prevention of the spread of the virus, including the receiving of communion by hand.

The guidelines also discouraged the holding of hands during the prayer of Our Father and shaking hands when making the sign of peace.

The Philippines’ Department of Health said it has investigated at least 382 patients for the coronavirus as of Feb. 11.

This accumulated total is up from the 314 reported the previous day, Feb. 10.

The Philippines has confirmed three cases of coronavirus in the country. One of them died after developing severe pneumonia due to the virus. The other two have recovered from the infection and have since been discharged from the hospital.

Outside the Philippines, six Filipinos are confirmed to have the virus: one Filipino based in the United Arab Emirates, and five in a cruise ship quarantined in Japan.

A woman receives communion by hand during the observance of the World Day of the Sick in Manila on Feb. 11. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

As of Feb. 11, the virus has killed 1,018 and infected over 43,000 people across 26 countries.

The World Health Organization declared a global health emergency over the outbreak, even saying that the virus was a “very grave threat” for the planet.

In his homily, Bishop Bacani said it is not the time to fear illnesses or people who are sick. “If you are suffering just approach Him. If you are feeling hopeless approach Him,” he said.

Addressing health workers, the bishop said the Lord reminds everyone that “when you go care for the sick, you bring with you not only your ability but my love and care as well.”

“The Lord said approach me not because you are sick, but because you need my heart,” he said.

“Let us ask God to heal the sick and for us who take care for them to give concern,” added Bishop Bacani.

The World Day of the Sick is an annual observance held every Feb. 11, the feast of the Our Lady of Lourdes, whose shrine in France has become a sanctuary human suffering.

Pope St. John Paul II initiated the observance in 1992 to encourage the faithful to pray for those who suffer from illness and for their caregivers.

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