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A clash over COVID-19 restrictions for Holy Week is shaping up between Malacañang and the bishop of the Archdiocese of Manila over a tightened government ban on mass gatherings in the national capital and four nearby provinces until Easter Sunday.
Bishop Broderick S. Pabillo, the apostolic administrator of Manila, told the faithful to defy new rules restricting religious worship that, he said, were imposed by a government inter-agency task force (IATF) without consultations.
Pabillo’s call to his flock, estimated at 2.8 million, is reminiscent of the historic appeal in February 1986 of then Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin for the people to rush to EDSA to protect officials who had broken away from the oppressive martial rule of Ferdinand Marcos.
In his pastoral instructions Tuesday, Pabillo said that starting yesterday until Easter Sunday (April 4), the archdiocese will open churches and hold religious rites at 10 percent capacity – as set by Malacañang before it got somewhat confused with mass numbers.
Not a few Catholics have wondered why a task force of President Duterte presumes to tell people how to pray in their places of worship, and why the police do not meddle also in the rites of other religions.
Pabillo said: “We will not have any religious activity outside of our churches such as senakulo, pabasa, processions, motorcades and Visita Iglesia. But in our churches, we will have our religious worship within 10 percent of our maximum capacity.”
“Let the worshipers be spread inside our churches, using the health protocols that we have been so consistently implementing,” the bishop added, even as he encouraged the faithful to join Semana Santa services via livestreaming.
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Presidential spokesman Harry Roque warned at a media briefing that opening churches as the bishop wanted would be “contrary to the decision of the IATF.”
“We ask Bishop Pabillo not to encourage disregard of IATF rules,” he added. “This is for the good of everyone anyway.”
What if Pabillo goes ahead with the planned opening of churches in the archdiocese, which consists of Manila, Pasay, Makati, Mandaluyong and San Juan?
Roque warned: “In the exercise of police powers, we can order the churches closed.” He expressed hope it will not come to that.
Since he is the President’s spokesman and what he said has not been retracted nor denied, we assume we may attribute to the President the threat to close churches.
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Most churches have high ceilings, good ventilation and open walls. We think the space that Health Secretary Francisco Duque measures with a meter-long stick, or the six-foot distance used in other places, could start the haggling over capacity.
While policemen enforce rules to make streets and other public places safe, we think they should not be allowed to stop anyone from entering a church, unless they are in hot pursuit of a criminal or suspect mingling with worshippers.
Finally, what is to be done with the impression that Duterte has been exploiting pandemic rules not only to push draconian measures that won’t pass in normal times but also to harass critics and others, including the Church, that get in the way as he consolidates power.
Bishop’s pastoral instructions
Recap of the bishop’s instructions on Holy Week activities:
On Holy Wednesday will be the Consecration of the Holy Chrism and the Blessing of the Oil of the Sick at the Manila Cathedral during the 7: 30 a.m. mass. The renewal of the priestly vows will be done on a later date when the priests can gather together. Everybody is invited to participate online. At 10 a.m., tune in to the social media platforms of the Diocese of Maasin for the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the first mass in Limasawa in 1521.
On Holy Thursday, join the online Archdiocesan Way of the Cross at 8 a.m. via TV Maria, Radio Veritas and the online platforms of our parish social communications. Let us accompany the Lord in his last hours and beg for his mercy in this time of the pandemic.
At the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, the Lord Jesus gave us the new commandment to love one another as he loved us. We concretely show this love by caring for the poor. Let every parish distribute material help to people most affected by the lack of food during the pandemic. You can use collections for the Alay Kapwa program since the beginning of Lent.
At the end of the Last Supper mass on Holy Thursday, there will be prayers before the reposed Blessed Sacrament in each parish for about an hour which will be covered online. Let us watch and pray with Jesus from our homes for an hour in silent adoration and worship.
On Good Friday, the parishes can organize their online Way of the Cross and reflections on the Seven Last Words of Jesus. Let us spend this day in sober prayer and fasting, meditating on the love of God for us as he offers his Son so that we may live and not perish.
The collection during the Veneration of the Cross in the afternoon of Good Friday will be for the Christians in the Middle East. They are suffering not only from the pandemic but also from the years of wars that their countries have been experiencing.
On Holy Saturday, I invite all to join TV Maria and Radio Veritas in the Tenebrae at 8 a.m. It is a set of prayers that commemorate the death of the Lord Jesus.
The most meaningful celebration of the year is the Easter Vigil Mass in all parishes. Join online, meditating on God’s Word and participating in the death and life of Jesus.
On Easter Sunday, we join the whole country in opening the 500 years of the coming of Christianity. We start with the opening of the Holy Door at the Manila Cathedral at 10 a.m. Join this celebration online. In the coming days, there will be the opening of the Holy Doors of the other jubilee churches in the Archdiocese.
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NB: All Postscripts are also archived at . Author is on Twitter as @FDPascual. Email: [email protected]
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