HomeNewsCatholic bishop questions ‘lockdown’ of Manila churches during Holy Week

Catholic bishop questions ‘lockdown’ of Manila churches during Holy Week

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan said churches are not closing but are "prohibited from holding ‘public religious gatherings’”

A Catholic bishop in the Philippine capital questioned the decision of authorities to limit attendance to religious services while allowing fitness centers and spas to operate up to 70 percent of its capacity.

“In spite of our adherence to strict protocol, you lock down our churches during the holiest time of the year and allow 70 percent capacity in fitness centers,” noted Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan.

“All right. May God have mercy on your souls!” added the bishop, who is also vice president of the Catholic bishops’ conference of the country, in his post on his personal Facebook account.

The prelate said he was hoping that authorities would at least allow a 20- to 30-percent maximum physical attendance in churches following strict protocol.

“But no, they would not even allow us to celebrate Easter on April 4,” he wrote. “It came as an instant order and with not even a modicum of dialogue!”

“If this is not a return to [enhanced community quarantine] total lockdown situation, why forbid our religious gatherings? Isn’t this a violation of religious freedom?” he asked.

Several dioceses in the Philippine capital Manila has announced that they will be closing their churches following the rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in the country.

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Bishop David clarified that Church leaders are not closing the churches. “We are prohibited from holding ‘public religious gatherings,’” he said.

“We continue to celebrate Masses but are allowed no more than ten people, including the priest, the altar server, lector, commentator, janitor, … even in churches that can occupy 5,000 people,” he said.

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan (Photo by Vincent Go)

New record high

The government on Sunday, March 21, said it is banning cross-border travel and all mass gatherings in Metro Manila and surrounding provinces.

The order, which took effect on Monday, March 22, and would last until April 4, also limits attendance to weddings, baptisms, and funerals to 10 people.

The order came ahead of Holy Week, the holiest week for Christians and also traditionally a time for holidays, when millions of Filipinos flock to churches or tourist spots.

On Monday, the Philippines’ Department of Health reported 8,019 new coronavirus infections, registering a record daily increase in cases.

In a bulletin, the department ministry said total confirmed cases had reached 671,792, while deaths increased by four to 12,972.

It was the third time the Philippines has posted a fresh high in daily cases in the past four days.

A police officer stands guard at checkpoint in the Philippine capital Manila on March 22. 2021. Authorities have reimposed stricter community quarantine after a renewed spike in coronavirus infections in the country. (Photo by Basilio Sepe for LiCAS.news)

The Health department also said more transmissible COVID-19 cases are now detected in all cities in Metro Manila, but said it is not the main driver of the surge in cases.

It said the root cause of the increase is still the non-compliance of people with health protocols.

Also on Monday, the World Health Organization said the Philippines should make better its probing efforts to determine sources of COVID-19 infections.

Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO’s Philippine representative, said the Philippines should strengthen its COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.

“Where is the transmission actually happening? Is it limited to social gatherings in families or among friends? Is it also being driven by gatherings at worksites and dormitories?” he said.

“This kind of investigation at the local government level is critically important so that we identify those mass-amplifying events and do everything possible to minimize the occurrence and the repeat occurrence of such situations,” Abeyasinghe added.

Father Alfredo Guerrero celebrates Mass in an empty chapel on Palm Sunday during the pandemic last year. (Photo by Mark Saludes)

Online Palm Sunday blessing

Because of the strict implementation of quarantine protocols, the blessing of palm fronds on Palm Sunday will be done online.

Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the Public Affairs Committee of the bishops’ conference, said priests will bless the palms by offering words of prayer.

“The priest will still say Mass, read the Gospel, bless the palms not with holy water … but with words of prayer,” he said.

Father Secillano said the faithful can also observe other Holy Week observances online.

“Just stay home for the meantime. The processions, Visita Iglesia, and others can be done virtually,” he said.

The priest said the Way of the Cross may also be done without going to church, although some churches will be opened to the public.

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