MAJOR churches in Metro Manila and Bulacan were empty and a heavy silence hung in the air on Wednesday, April 8, as this predominantly Catholic nation canceled public activities for the Holy Week.
Father Rhandy Canchino, parochial vicar of the National Shrine and Parish of the Divine Mercy in the Philippines in Marilao in Bulacan, said devotees normally flock to the church beginning Palm Sunday, which was observed on April 2 this year.
Catholic churches normally become a hive of activity until Easter Sunday as Catholics attend daily Masses and religious processions, follow the Way of the Cross, visit churches for the visita iglesia and relive the Passion of Christ on Good Friday before celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday.
This year, Canchino said these activities will be done online, specifically via Facebook live, in line with the social distancing policy and in compliance with the enhanced community quarantine rules in Luzon until April 30.
“So ano ‘yung ibig sabihin ng lahat ng ito, ito ‘yung paraan ng pagri-rech out ng simbahan sa tao kung hindi makakapunta ang mga tao sa simbahan ang simbahan ang lalapit sakanila. Ito ang paraan din ng simbahan para ipaalala sa lahat na mas kailangan natin ngayon ang presensya ng Diyos, mas kailangan natin ‘yung magdasal, ngayon at yun ‘yung responsibilidad namin sa simbhan para mas ipakita sa mga tao na nanjan yung Diyos para tulungan tayo,” he said.
Canchino, however, said the lockdown is timely as it allows the faithful to truly give up earthly luxuries and replicate the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ in order to save humanity.
“I think very timely din ngayong holy week na nakikiisa tayo sa paghihirap ng Panginoon, sa pagpapakasakit niya at kamatayan sa krus at ito rin sa tingin ko ‘yung pakikiisa ng Diyos sa atin sa paghihirap natin ngayon na parang sinasabi ng Panginoon sa atin na kasama ninyo ako sa paghihirap ninyo na hindi ko kayo iniiwan kaya mas kailangan ‘yung presensya ngayon ng simbahan sa mga tao para ipaalala sakanila na even in the darkest time, God is there na sasamahan tayo at tutulungan tayo kaya lahat ng effort namin para at least sa online maipakata namin sa tao ‘yung observance ng Holy week,” he added.
He said this is also a reminder that God is present even during the darkest days of our lives.
Lea Delomos, an administrative assistant and a devotee herself of the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto Shrine in Bulacan, is sad that she could not express her devotion to the Lord and the church is empty because of Covid-19.
“Sa mga nakaraang taon napakadami nang tao sa mga ganitong araw Miyerkules santo puno na ng tao. Nung palm Sunday, wala talaga so nakakalungkot, first time ko na-experience na walang tao sa ganitong panahon,” she said.
The Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto Shrine has been one of the major destinations during the Holy Week especially for those doing the visita iglesia, way of the cross and “Alay Lakad” to honor the sacrifices of Jesus Christ.
Other major churches in Metro Manila were just as empty and silent.
At the Quiapo Church, Vicar General Fr Douglas Badong said there will be no procession of the image of the Black Nazarene on Good Friday, April 10, despite it being the image's liturgical feast.
"We won't hold it for this year because of the enhanced community quarantine," said Badong.
In a previous interview, then Quiapo Church Rector Monsignor Jose Clements Ignacio had explained that Good Friday is the actual liturgical feast of the Black Nazarene “because that is the time that He carries the cross”.
What is being commemorated every January 9 is the "traslacion" or the transfer of the Black Nazarene image from Intramuros to the Quiapo Church in 1787.
Nevertheless, Badong said other traditional Good Friday activities will be pushing through even without churchgoers.
These include the 7 Last Words at 12 noon and the Veneration of the Cross at 3 p.m.
Earlier, Manila Archdiocese Apostolic Administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo advised the faithful to look at other ways to observe Holy Week traditions.
He said families can give special prominence to their crucifix in their homes by putting it in a special place, lighting a candle beside it, and decorating it.
Pabillo also encouraged families to spend Good Friday in prayer and fasting while turning off their electronic gadgets the whole day, except to participate in the Veneration of the Cross at 3 p.m. or to listen to the Siete Palabras (7 Last Words).
This is the first time since 1945 for the Catholic Church to forego public observance of the Holy Week.
Because of the ECQ due to Covid-19, public transport systems are suspended and the people are required to stay home.
Canchino, however, reminded that the presence of the Lord is everywhere especially in the hearts of everyone and especially during these trying times.
"Tandaan natin na ang presensya ng Diyos ay nasa lahat ng lugar nasa lahat ng pagkakataon sa lahat ng mga moments sa ating lugar nandoon ang Diyos, mas hanapin ang Diyos sa mga ginagawa araw araw, kahit sa bahay pwedeng gawing simbahan na hanapin natin ang presensya ng Diyos doon," he said. (With HDT/SunStar Philippines)