In Caloocan, an itchy Ash Wednesday ‘mystery’ | Inquirer News

In Caloocan, an itchy Ash Wednesday ‘mystery’

/ 07:13 AM February 17, 2018

Churchgoers at San Roque Cathedral in Caloocan City mysteriously ended up with rashes or blisters on their forehead, the spot which the priest marked with a cross on Ash Wednesday using ashes from burned palm branches.

Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David has ordered a probe of the incident after some devotees complained of burns from the ash used during the Feb. 14 rites that opened the Lenten season.


David said the church staff was also puzzled, even as he assured the public that the church had already extended assistance to the affected churchgoers. “We apologize for whatever harm inadvertently caused by what should have been a solemn ritual marking the beginning of Lent,” the prelate said on Friday.

David said his staff reviewed the surveillance camera footage of the church, particularly during the burning of the ashes on Tuesday night. “We have asked our staff to review our closed circuit television footage for any possibility of sabotage. Could somebody have maliciously sneaked in to mix acid in the ashes?”


Sabotage ruled out

But when contacted again later in the day, the bishop said they had ruled out  sabotage after a careful review of CCTV footage.

Catholics marked the beginning of the 40-day period of Lent with the observance of Ash Wednesday on Feb. 14, a day of fasting and abstinence. Catholics also heard Mass that day and had their foreheads marked with ash, made from burning palm fronds used in the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration.


Burning sensation

But at the San Roque Cathedral, some churchgoers said they felt a burning or stinging sensation after they had their foreheads marked with the ash. Those who immediately washed off the ash in the church’s bathroom noticed reddish rashes or blisters.

“Strangely, others who lined up for the imposition of ashes by other lay ministers didn’t experience the same thing,” David said.


Upon hearing of the complaints, the cathedral’s pastoral vicar decided to immediately pull out the ashes and rushed to neighboring parishes to ask for some of their own ashes.

“We checked if our cathedral staff had done anything with the ashes that was different from what we’ve done for many years. They, too, were puzzled by what had happened,” he said.

David said they sent the ashes, which they mixed with holy water, to a chemical laboratory for testing. “Our volunteer doctor said it was indeed similar to skin burns caused by a chemical substance. He suggested having our ashes tested in a nearby chemical laboratory,” he said.

High acidity

David said the results of the laboratory tests showed that the ashes had a high level of acidity.

This apparently happened when “overcooked charcoal turned into caustic ashes that produce high acidity when mixed with water.”

David explained that palm fronds were traditionally burned in earthen pots. Since there was a huge pile to burn, the gradual addition of palm fronds led to “overburning,” which produced grayish ashes instead of dark charcoal, he added.

“What matters to us now is that we are able to apply the proper medication—silver sulfadiazine—on people who have been affected,” David said, adding that the church was also willing to reimburse parishioners who would present receipts for medications or expenses incurred in treating the burns.

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TAGS: Ash Wednesday, Caloocan, Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, Philippine news updates, San Roque Cathedral
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