It’s barely three weeks before the start of the traditional Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo. Simbang Gabi is a traditional and devotional nine-day series of masses practiced by Filipino Roman Catholics and Aglipayans in the Philippines in anticipation of Christmas. It will commence on the dawn of Dec. 16 and will end on Christmas eve, Dec. 24, through Misa de Aguinaldo.
In the light of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, there is a debate on whether to allow the Catholic community to still observe it or cancel it all the way. We know already the possible scenario every time we observe the Misa de Gallo. Millions of Filipino people will surely attend this church activity and all parishes are expected to be in full capacity.
Under the present circumstances, can our authorities still allow this? Some local government units (LGUs) especially in the Metropolitan Manila and church leaders are firming up plans that will allow the faithful to observe the forthcoming celebration. Local and church officials are suggesting to pursue the usual annual activity, but there should be strict guidelines that will protect the health and lives of the thousands or even millions of devotees.
Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella has yet to decide on the matter, whether to observe or cancel this church activity or maybe find a win-win solution. He is also waiting for the decision of the Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF). If the IATF decides to cancel it, then he will oblige. If not, then he has to come up with options on how to manage the situation.
But why gamble? The virus is very much pretty active. In fact, the number of positive cases has risen lately because we tend to lower our guard. Quarantine protocols have been relaxed, like opening of some commercial establishments even the non-essential businesses.
If we hold traditional masses in parishes, can our church leaders and their parish security guards (PSG) and even the police guarantee to limit the influx of devotees that will attend masses and observe physical distancing? Can church officials impose the 50 percent church capacity rule, which is allowed under the modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) policy? Health officials said wearing face masks and shields in crowded areas does not guarantee protection. We cannot control people when they are already in the area. Shopping malls, supermarkets and grocery store owners cannot even control the shoppers and buying public inside their establishments, how much more in churches?
Of course, the first to resist if the IATF decides to cancel the activity are our church officials and some devotees. They would insist that this is a religious activity and a tradition. So, what if this is a religious activity and a tradition? Is this kind of activity exempted from the virus? Since the pandemic occurred, how many religious activities and traditions we set aside in exchange for protecting public health? The coronavirus deprived us of that chance to observe religious activities and traditions.
During the lockdown, holding masses was prohibited. Parishes were allowed to hold masses, but only through online and virtual platforms. We cancelled fiesta celebrations and processions and holding of local festivals like the Cabcaban Festival of Carcar City, which is celebrating its annual fiesta today. We forego the observance of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day by closing our cemeteries.
Next year’s Sinulog annual activities are cancelled and deviated. The fluvial and solemn foot processions on the bisperas of fiesta celebration are cancelled. The Sinulog grand parade, which is a crowd drawer, will be done virtually. Our authorities are very strict in minor things, like banning street carolling, mall sale and even pockets of mass gatherings and yet we tend to relax and give exemption to much bigger events specially religious activities like Simbang Gabi? Why can’t we cancel this Simbang Gabi or just make it through online and virtual platforms? Why force the issue when the virus is very much active? Again, why gamble?