Churches expect big Ash Wednesday crowds | Inquirer News

Churches expect big Ash Wednesday crowds after 2-year curbs

/ 04:50 AM March 02, 2022
Burning of palm fronds for Ash Wednesday, for story: Churches expect big Ash Wednesday crowds after 2-year curbs

UNWAVERING FAITH | Catholic priest Jerry Habunal on Monday leads the blessing and burning of dried palm fronds or “palaspas” that will be used on Ash Wednesday at the Jesus the Divine Healer Parish in Parañaque City. In-person activities for Lent have been allowed by the Catholic Church as Metro Manila and other areas in the country are placed on alert level 1 starting March 1. (MARIANNE BERMUDEZ / PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER)

MANILA, Philippines — Churches anticipate bigger crowds at today’s observance of Ash Wednesday following the shift to the “new normal,” with a priest reminding Mass-goers to observe the same protocols as before.

Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent, comes a day after Metro Manila and 38 other areas shifted to Alert Level 1, the minimum set of restrictions under the country’s pandemic response system.

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This year the Church has allowed priests to revert to the tradition of daubing ashes on the forehead of Catholics, unlike last year when the ashes were sprinkled on their heads. The latter, however, remains an option.

At the Holy Trinity Parish church near Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City, volunteers will man entrances to ask Mass-goers to present proof of full vaccination and fill out contact tracing forms like before, according to Fr. Amer Zaragosa.

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“If the crowd gets bigger, it’s still the same, we would ensure that physical distancing would be observed,” said Zaragosa, the parochial vicar of the parish.

Extra chairs will be placed outside the church to accommodate more people, he added.

Fear of infection

Mary Ann Carlengga, who has been attending Sunday Mass at their barangay court in Baesa, Caloocan City, said she expected a bigger crowd today and that she also feared catching the virus.

“[I pray] that we can go back to normal and that no more people will get sick. Life is hard [amid the pandemic] because we are like confined [in our own spaces],” she said.

At their barangay court, proof of vaccination is not required but the attendees need to submit to temperature check and give their numbers for contact tracing.

With the relaxation of restrictions and the drop in the number of COVID-19 infections every day, Father Zaragosa hoped that the usually large pre-pandemic crowd in churches would come back.

“Hopefully, they will come back to the church because it seems like they are still afraid,” he said, noting that it was “ironic” because more people are opting to go to malls and campaign sorties.

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The Lenten season starts with Ash Wednesday because it is the time for people to reflect on their life’s purpose, Zaragosa explained.

“This is the time for us to repent and turn to God, a reminder that we came from ashes and to ashes we will return,” he said.

‘Victory from evil’

During Lent, Catholics are called to engage in constant prayer and reading of God’s word, abstain from meat on Friday, fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and do acts of mercy.

This season, Catholics should learn to integrate their faith with politics, especially in light of the May 9 national elections, Father Zaragosa said. “The highlight of ‘Cuaresma’ is the victory of Jesus in the form of salvation and that is the same thing that we are hoping for in the upcoming elections,” he said.

“Victory from evil, victory against deception and rotten system [of politics] and that it would be a clean and fair election,” he added.

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