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Churches go online as COVID-19 spreads

SOCIAL DISTANCING IN MASS: The Diocese of Borongan in Eastern Samar has placed yellow tape on the church pews so churchgoers would be at arm’s length from each other, amid the spread of the new coronavirus in the country. (Photo by ALREN BERONIO / Contributor)

They may disagree on issues like evolution, but not on social distancing.

Science and religion have found common ground in pursuing social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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Christian churches across the country on Sunday held online Masses and services to comply with the Department of Health’s advisory for people to practice social distancing so as to contain the rapid spread of the new coronavirus.

The faithful heard Masses in their homes.

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Isabela Bishop David William Antonio told parishioners that the cancellation of Masses with large numbers of parishioners in attendance was the “moral obligation” of the Church in line with efforts of health and government officials to contain the virus.

Yellow ‘caution tapes’

“The recommendation [of the Department of Health] on social distancing should be taken seriously,” Antonio said. “Avoiding large gatherings is a proven and effective measure in preventing and lessening transmission of the virus.”

The Diocese of Borongan in Eastern Samar province has implemented its own version of social distancing.

Yellow “caution tapes” have been placed on pews of churches so that people are seated apart from each other.

The temporary seating arrangement imposed by Borongan Bishop Crispin Varquez is intended to ensure the safety of those who attend Masses in all churches in the diocese.

From a capacity of 10, each pew now accommodates three people during Masses. “And we are happy that this seating arrangement, which is in compliance with the social distancing measure, is positively welcomed by the parishioners,’’ said Fr. Neil Tenefrancia, assistant director of the diocesan commission on mass media of the Borongan Diocese.

In Makati City, Mila Salvador, 62, gathered her grandchildren in the living room and heard Mass aired live on a local television network.

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Although convenient and comfortable, Salvador said she still preferred going to church than hearing Mass on TV.

“I feel it’s incomplete without receiving the Communion,” she said.

Fr. Cris Magbitang, who cele­brates Mass at the Santo Niño de Taguig Parish, said a major downside of hearing Mass online or on TV was having only a spiritual communion.

“We don’t actually receive the bread [and wine],” he said.

Magbitang said it was also harder to get the faithful’s attention when they hear Mass on TV. “But of course, we understand that the government is doing these things for people to be safe and healthy.”

Dos and don’ts

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, the apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila, released on Sunday a pastoral instruction on how the faithful could make the most out of the online Masses.

Pabillo advised the faithful not to hear the Mass while drinking coffee. He said it would be better to refer to the Catholic Bible Readings Guide before the Mass “to prepare yourselves to hear them better once they are proclaimed in the Eucharist.”

“Have a few moments, too, to think what you are to thank the Lord for and what to offer to him this Mass. Remember that you are praying this Eucharist with many other fellow Catholics not only in your parish but all over the world,” Pabillo said.

“Stay in a reverent gesture throughout the Mass, standing or sitting up properly. It would be good if the whole family in the house joins together in the Mass. Do not just watch the Mass. Join in it with your prayers, responses and singing,” he added.

At the time of Communion, Pabillo advised the faithful to make the spiritual communion.

LIVE STREAMING: Catholic priest Hans Magdurulang celebrates Sunday Mass at the chapel of San Felipe Neri Parochial School in Mandaluyong City as seen online. (Photo by GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE / Philippines)

He said one could pray the prayer attributed to St. Alphonsus de Liguori: “My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul.”

At the end of the online Mass, take some moment of silence to read again the Scripture and reflect how, enlightened by the homily, you can live God’s Word that day, Pabillo said.

“Do not worry. This situation of not being able to come to Church for the Mass is temporary,” he added.

The bishop himself celebrated Mass that was live-streamed. “Is the Lord in our midst or not? Is the Lord here in the time of the coronavirus disease? Has the Lord forsaken us? Let us trust that God is here and guiding our lives and history,” he said at the Crypt Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows in Manila Cathedral.

First time

On the campus of the University of the Philippines Diliman in Quezon City, Destiny Church Senior Pastor Leo Carlo Panlilio encouraged people not to panic and trust more in God before conducting the worship service without its thousand regular church members in attendance for the first time.

Instead, most of the regular churchgoers were at home tuning to it livestream. A handful of church leaders were present to play music, sing and worship and give announcements.

In Pasig City, church members of the Christ’s Commission Fellowship (CCF) also remained at home while the service was filmed at the CCF Main Hall, with only a few members doing the worship and the the rest of the congregation from all the church’s satellites tuning online.

In Cagayan province, social distancing was observed in parishes where there were fewer people hearing Mass.

Fredel Agatep, parish priest of Our Lady of Piat Basilica Minore in Tuguegarao City, said parishioners had been cooperative in undertaking public health measures to prevent or slow down the spread of the virus.

He said Catholic churches in Piat town continued to hold Masses but churchgoers were subjected to temperature screening. Archbishop Ricardo Baccay of Archdiocese of Tuguegarao has issued a circular telling prelates to use their own “discretion and prudence” in celebrating scheduled and daily Masses.

In Kalinga province, Bishop Prudencio Andaya said Masses would be celebrated but with some restrictions such as holding and shaking of hands.

Andaya said the churches “should be kept open so that those who need to pray and seek prayerful moments may find solace and strength in these trying times.” INQ

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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