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Virtual religious gatherings amidst COVID-19

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TEODORO BACANI, bishop-emeritus of Novaliches, presided over the mass marking the 28th World Day of the Sick held at the Manila Cathedral on Feb. 11. The event was organized by the Ministry on Healthcare of the Archdiocese of Manila in coordination with the Order of Malta Philippines. — RIAN FRANCIS SALAMAT/RCAM-AOC

RELIGIOUS groups are holding televised and online streaming worship services in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and the Luzon lockdown.

On March 16, the government placed Luzon under “enhanced community quarantine” which will run until April 12.

Four days before, Code Red Sublevel 2 was declared in Metro Manila. “Community quarantine” in the National Capital Region took effect on March 15.

In response to the government’s directives, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president Romullo G. Valles issued a circular on March 13 saying that the CBCP is “obliged to cooperate and support all the precautionary measures that our health officials and government leaders offer us to keep our people safe and healthy.”

This allowed local Ordinaries to dispense the faithful from the Sunday and the Holy Days of Obligation. However, this does not excuse them from providing a platform to exercise their duties.

“Every diocese must therefore provide for the celebration of the Eucharist, other liturgical services and spiritual activities, transmitted live through the Internet, Television, or Radio. We should encourage the faithful to avail themselves of these and pray together in their homes as a family or in their small Christian communities (BECs),” Mr. Valles noted.

Sunday masses were celebrated via online streaming, radio, and television on March 14 and 15.

Eighty-six percent of the population of the Philippines is Roman Catholic according to the Asia Society.

LENT EVENTS CANCELED
In a Pastoral Statement of the Bishops of Metro Manila dated March 16, 2020, the bishops have decided on various points.

Firstly, mass celebrations are suspended until April 14. Secondly, religious activities during Holy Week — which falls on April 5 to 12 this year — are also canceled. (A list of online masses can be found on https://cbcpnews.net/cbcpnews/list-of-online-masses/)

“Since the dates for the Metro Manila Community Quarantine will coincide with the last three Sundays of Lent, and Holy Week, it would mean that the liturgical celebrations during those days, including Palm Sunday, the rest of the Holy Week and Easter Sunday will not be open to the public,” the Pastoral statement read. “There will be no public blessing of palms, Visita Iglesia, Siete Palabras, Good Friday procession and Easter Salubong.”

Lastly, the Pastoral letter called for church bells to be rung at noon and at 8 p.m. every day to call the faithful to pray the Oratio Imperata prayer to fight the virus; as well as the regular praying of the Angelus at noon and the family rosary in the evening.

INC AND JEHOVAH’S WITNESS
On March 14, Malacañang released a memorandum with guidelines on the month-long quarantine.

The memo states that “religious activities may continue so long as strict social distancing, defined as the strict maintenance of a distance of at least one meter radius between and among those attending, is maintained during the entirety of the event.”

In a phone interview with BusinessWorld, Iglesia Ni Cristo spokesman Bro. Edwil Zabala was unable to comment when asked about how the congregation will adjust to the prohibition of mass gatherings. Iglesia ni Cristo services were held as usual this past Sunday, albeit with the practice of social distancing.

Meanwhile, congregations of Jehovah’s Witness have been abiding by the directives by providing online streaming platforms.

“If it’s not possible for us to meet together as a congregation then we do have a live streaming arrangement,” Jehovah Witness spokesman Dean Jacek told BusinessWorld in a phone interview.

Each congregation is also given a schedule of the Bible material that will be discussed each week.

“[If] it’s not possible to meet as a group and they have that schedule, and then we advise families to go over the material in their own home. We also have delayed streaming [on the internet] for certain programs if somebody is not able to tune in,” Mr. Jacek said. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman





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