By Robin Gomes
As the Philippines continues to battle rising numbers in Covid-19 infections and deaths, a bishop in the south is inviting his Catholics to join a 40-day spiritual campaign of fasting and penance.
The Philippines’ Covid-19 burden
The Philippines on Thursday confirmed 16,313 fresh cases of infections, bringing the country’s total to 1,899,222. The government’s Department of Health (DOH) reported 236 fresh deaths, pushing the country’s total to 32,728. The DOH epidemiology bureau director, Alethea De Guzman said that infections and deaths were continuing to rise, especially in Metro Manila, home to over 13 million people. Since the last week of July, she said the country's coronavirus deaths have increased. Among the Southeast Asian nations, Indonesia tops the list with nearly 131,000 deaths, followed by the Philippines.
40-day spiritual campaign
Bishop Moises Cuevas, the apostolic administrator of Zamboanga Archdiocese released a pastoral letter on Tuesday saying the 40-day spiritual campaign will be held October 13 to November 21, “in solidarity with those who suffer readily the effects of the pandemic and evoke the fasting and time of preparation of Christ in the wilderness”.
"Beginning on October 13, 2021,” he said, “church bells shall be rung in our parishes at 8 p.m., followed by the prayer of the holy rosary to be participated by our clergy and a number of parishioners representing the community." The 47-year-old bishop said a series of catechesis are being organized for the weeks preceding the penitential activities. He asked parish priests to make arrangements for confessions for those who wish to engage in spiritual and moral renewal.
The 40-day period will end on Nov. 21, Christ the King Sunday, with a “penitential walk” from the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to the Shrine of Nuestra Señora La Virgen del Pilar. The clergy and religious of the archdiocese will join the event.
Apart from the Covid-19 infections and deaths, the pandemic has had drastic effects on the economic and social life of the people, especially poor families and daily-wage earners. Bishop Cuevas said, “The ongoing threat of Covid-19 continues to derail the normalcy of day to day living in the city, putting at risk those who are most vulnerable in their health conditions.” “As a community, we are still traversing on the verge of the unknown and most uncertain, while we precariously hold on to our emotional stability and the assurance that we are not left helpless in these present circumstances.”
The bishop asked that the so-called “Gifted to Give Stations” be set up in all parishes for the benefit of poor and destitute members of the community. “Gifted to Give”, taken from Matthew’s Gospel (Ch. 10:8), is the theme for the current celebration of the jubilee year marking 500 years of the arrival of Christianity on Philippine soil, with the first Mass celebrated on March 31, 1521. Bishop Cuevas said that through the “Gifted to Give Stations”, "there will be a continuous distribution of material goods to be organized in our parishes in ensuring that we respond appropriately and care for our brothers and sisters in need." He has designated the newly established Archdiocesan Pandemic Management Office (APMO) to oversee the “stations”.
Word of God
The archdiocese is also launching a programme of “Catechesis on the Word of God”, in anticipation of the Sunday of the Word of God on Jan. 23 next year. Bishop Cuevas said this inter-parochial catechesis will be conducted online “as a way of accompanying our faithful and those who continuously seek refuge in the Word of God in these trying times”.
Bishop Cuevas, who was Auxiliary Bishop of Zamboanga was appointed Apostolic its Administrator by Pope Francis over 2 weeks ago on August 11, while 74-year old Archbishop Romulo de la Cruz is recovering from a stroke.