Holy Week masses in several Metro Manila churches will proceed despite restrictions set by the government to curb the recent spike in Covid infections, according to a pastoral letter from Archbishop Broderick Pabillo of the Archdiocese of Manila.
However, it was clarified that the masses will go on with an audience of only 10 percent of the churches’ maximum capacity, down from the 50 percent prior to the imposition of the present lockdown which is to end on Easter Sunday.
“Mayroon tayong religious freedom. Hindi nila pwede tayong pagbawalan sa ating religious activities within the church. Sumusunod naman tayo sa patakaran,” Pabillo said.
Pabillo said that the doors of the churches would remain open, and worshippers will be permitted to enter and pray as long as they don’t exceed the rated capacity.
But traditional Holy Week activities like the senakulo, pabasa, Bisita Iglesia, Via Crucis and all processions will be cancelled.
A Malacanang factotum had warned Pabillo against proceeding with the plan as the state, in the exercise of its police power, can order the closure of the errant churches. “If you will defy, you will force the state to close the doors of the churches.”
But in a TV interview, Bishop Pabillo denied the Church is defying the orders of the IATF, stressing it is the affirmation of the right to religious worship.
The IATF is prohibiting the holding of masses and other religious activities during the current two-week lockdown (until April 4) imposed in the National Capital Region and the adjacent provinces of Rizal, Laguna, Cavite and Laguna, as part of protocols designed to deal with the recent surge in virus infections.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), in a press release, said the pastoral instruction covers the cities of Manila, Pasay, Makati, Mandaluyong and San Juan.
“Within our churches, starting March 24, we will have our religious worship,” Pabillo said.
Speaking last week on the Church-owned station Radio Veritas, the prelate said the Catholic Church was never consulted by the government’s anti-Covid task force during the implementation of the lockdown, and the ban on masses is an infringement of religious freedom.
Pabillo said this is a blatant violation of the principle of separation of Church and State, as enunciated in the Constitution.
“D’yan mali na sila at hindi dapat tayo sumunod sa ganyang pamamalakad,” he said.
Fr. Jerome Secillano, CBCP public affairs committee executive secretary, said this situation seems to be “irrational and unreasonable” as masses are prohibited by the IATF, while the public is allowed unfettered access to shopping malls, gyms, internet cafes and spas.
“The government seems to be oblivious to the spiritual needs of the people,” Fr. Secilliano said.
An official of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) said there should be no issue with the state telling the Church not to open its doors for masses inasmuch as this a time of health emergency.