By Devin Watkins
The Philippines has taken the first, timid steps toward returning to a semblance of normality after the easing of lockdown measures imposed to limit the spread of Covid-19.
A government task force, the IATF, changed government restrictions on religious services late last week.
Churches in areas with stricter lockdown measures in place will be allowed to host 5 people for activities. Other parts of the country foresee up to 10 taking part in Masses and church services.
As of Tuesday, almost 13,000 cases of the novel coronavirus were confirmed in the country, with nearly 900 deaths.
The Apostolic Administrator of the Philippine capital of Manila slammed the new parameters as “laughable” and “unreasonable”.
“It is just another way of saying that you do not have religious activities,” said Bishop Broderick Pabillo in a Facebook post. “Where did they get these numbers?”
Bishop Pabillo pointed out that the guidelines do not set limits on the numbers of people in stores, offices, or factories. He questioned why churches should have fixed limits.
“There are many churches with different sizes,” he said. “Five persons for such a big church as Baclaran or the Manila Cathedral is laughable! The one-size-fits-all directive is really unreasonable!”
He recommended instead setting a social-distancing limit of 1 or 2 meters between people.
Bishop Pabillo said religious leaders were not consulted, adding that the government made “arbitrary decisions” which led to “unreasonable directives”.
Areas of the Philippines under the strictest quarantine measures are still not allowed to have gatherings of any sort, including public Masses.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has released guidelines for parishes that are allowed to hold religious services with people in attendance.
The faithful are encouraged to respect social-distancing, use facemasks, and wash their hands frequently.
Communion will be received in the hand, and holding hands during the “Our Father” prayer is discouraged.
Archbishop Romulo Valles, CBCP President, said the next phase in the pandemic will be approached with “prudence, patience, and a loving and charitable mindset.”
The elderly, children, and the sick are dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass while Covid-19 remains widespread.