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Filipino Catholics masks against the coronavirus infection at an Ash Wednesday service in Manila, February 26, 2020. Filipino Catholics masks against the coronavirus infection at an Ash Wednesday service in Manila, February 26, 2020.   (AFP or licensors)

Coronavirus: Manila Archdiocese braces for ‘worst case’ scenario

Bishop Broderick Pabillo, the Apostolic Administrator of Manila, issued a pastoral letter instructing parishes, institutions and the faithful to take measures against the coronavirus, officially known as Covid-19.

By Robin Gomes

One of the largest dioceses in the Philippines could possibly stop ‘public gatherings’ in its parishes if the coronavirus situation in the country worsens. 

Bishop Broderick Pabillo, the Apostolic Administrator of Manila Archdiocese, did not specify which gatherings would be affected but urged parishes “to be prepared for any eventuality”. 

In the spirit of charity

“Worst case scenario would be the suspension of public gatherings,” Bishop Pabillo said in a pastoral letter issued March 9.  The bishop, however, exhorted the public to stop spreading unnecessary panic and fear.

“Let our attitude be compassion and care for others. Thus we need to take precautionary measures in the spirit of charity for all,” he said.

Safety measures

The bishop’s pastoral letter goes into details pointing to 12 safety measures in dealing with the contagion. 

He has called for temporarily emptying out holy water fonts in churches and not holding hands when praying the Lord’s Prayer and when giving the sign of peace at Masses.  Disinfectants are to be made available in all Church institutions. 

The bishop urged faithful with flu-like symptoms to stay home and seek medical attention, saying it “is an act of charity that we can offer to the people”.  He urged special care for the weak and vulnerable, remembering the words of Jesus: “I was sick and you take care of me.”

Those staying at home “can sanctify the Lord’s Day by praying in their homes and reading the Scriptures,” Bishop Pabillo said, advising them to follow Masses streamed live on the Quiapo Church Facebook and website as well as on TV Maria.  Radio Veritas also airs Masses regularly and other parishes have their own video streaming facilities.  

“Until the virus is overcome all should refrain from the kissing and holding of statues and sacred images, and even the glass frames that protect them. Let barriers be installed so that people do not get near them to touch them.”

President Rodrigo Duterte has already declared a state of public health emergency as cases of coronavirus in the Philippines jumped to 33 as of Tuesday.

Despite concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) did not consider it necessary to suspend public Masses.

The cancellation of public Masses was among the measures taken in Hong Kong, Singapore, Italy and in some dioceses in Japan to stem the spread of the virus.

Economic fallout

Bishop Pabillo also called on the archdiocese’s more than 80 parishes to brace for the “economic effects” of the health crisis.

“We need to save at this time of impending crisis. Let us make our Church institutions resilient,” he stressed. “What we can save, let us put in a Disaster Resiliency Fund.”

“In this way, in case we have no collections,” he said, “we may sustain the salaries of our employees maintain our religious institutions.”

Intensifying prayers

Bishop Pabillo stressed that prayer must accompany every precautionary measure.  “We encourage all to intensify our prayers to ask for Divine protection and intervention. Faith can avert evil,” he said.

The Philippine Catholic Church has earlier announced the “oratio imperata” (obligatory prayer) initiative for people affected by the virus and to prevent a global epidemic. 

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has already issued two guidelines regarding measures to contain the infection. 

In January, the CBCP suggested that communion in the hand “be practised ordinarily” and discouraged the faithful from holding hands when praying the “Our Father” during Mass.

In a liturgical guideline ahead of Lent, the bishops suggested that on Ash Wednesday, ashes be sprinkled on the head instead of marking the forehead with a cross and to “refrain” from kissing or touching the cross for veneration on Good Friday.  

Philippine Catholic bishops' 'oratio imperata' (obligatory prayer) against coronavirus
10 March 2020, 14:34