The government has opened a window for the possible holding of masses at 10 percent capacity from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday following a stalemate with the Catholic Church over a 14-day ban on religious gatherings to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases will discuss the position of the Catholic Church today (Thursday).
“On the table for the IATF’s consideration is the request of the Catholic Church to be allowed a maximum of 10 percent attendance in churches during the Triduum (Holy Thursday-Good Friday-Black Saturday), as well as on Easter Sunday, which will coincide with the celebration of the quincentennial of Christianity in the Philippines,” Guevarra said.
Guevarra has been holding talks with the leadership of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines for two days straight since Tuesday following Malacañang’s announcement that it will not hesitate to use police powers to close down churches that defy the ban.
The ban would last until April 4, Easter Sunday.
Bishop Broderick Pabillo, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila, however, insisted the 10-percent capacity rule does not constitute mass gathering.
CBCP spokesman Fr. Jerome Secillano said church events, including mass, would continue but the faithful would not be encouraged to go inside churches to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"We are going to celebrate our liturgies because it's the Holy Week. We would not encourage them to attend. However, if they knocked, we cannot just say you cannot come in," he said in an interview with the ANC news channel.
"There's a possibility that they will be allowed.. Maybe people can stay outside in order for them to attend the Mass so that we will not violate any IATF protocols," Secillano added.
He said the Catholic Church will follow the guidelines but the government should have consulted the Church first before implementing such rules to avoid confusion.
The IATF prohibited religious gatherings under the implementation of general community quarantine in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Laguna, Rizal, and Cavite from March 22 to April 4.
The Archdiocese of Manila covers the cities of Manila, Pasay, Makati, Mandaluyong, and San Juan, all within the Metro Manila quarantine bubble.
Secillano said the ban is inconsistent as baptisms, funeral Masses, and weddings are still allowed with attendance limited to only 10 persons.
“[I]t's quite unreasonable because if you look at the policy, you allow 10 persons for baptisms, weddings, [and] funeral masses. But when it comes to masses, why is there totally none?” he said.
“There should be a rational approach to formulate a strategy. However, at the rate things are going, it appears irrational. There seems to be too many loopholes [and] inconsistencies,” he said.
Pabillo lamented that Church leaders were not consulted “when they make policies affecting our life of worship.”
Holy Week, said Pabillo, is not just any ordinary time for Christian believers. He noted that it is “a time during which we feel more especially God’s love for us so we are drawn these days to thank and worship Him more intensely.”
The parochial vicar of Quiapo Church, meanwhile, said it is safer for the public to visit churches than malls.
The Quiapo Church will be open to the public at 10 percent capacity or 100 visitors, said Fr. Douglas Badong.
“It's safer for them to go to church than be allowed in malls. We've proven this during dawn masses and the Feast of the Nazarene,” he said in Filipino.
He appealed to the government to review the situation before implementing policies.
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