Coronavirus: lockdown forces Filipinos to find new ways to worship
With churches closed in Metro Manila, the faithful are flocking to services online
Christians in the Philippines have taken to Telegram, Zoom and other online services to worship together after the capital region was put under lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus infections.
The Philippines, where Catholics make up more than 80 per cent of the population, has seen an increasing number of Covid-19 cases over the past month, from just three on February 2 to 1,546 on March 30, with 78 deaths.
The emergency measures imposed on March 14 in Metro Manila, home to about 13 million of the country's 109 million people, include the suspension of public transport, an 8pm to 5am curfew and the closure of all businesses except those involving food and essential health services. Only one member per household is permitted to leave the house to collect groceries or medical supplies each day.
The lockdown comes in the midst of Lent, the Christian period of prayer and fasting leading up to Easter, which falls on April 12 this year.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque had earlier called for a ban on public Masses, saying the congregations were like a “petri dish” for the coronavirus, but most Catholic and Protestant churches in Metro Manila suspended public services only after the government’s “enhanced community quarantine” went into effect.
Until then, church authorities had implemented only precautionary measures such as banning the touching and kissing of religious images or statues and the dipping of hands in the font of holy water placed at church entrances, and discouraged hand-holding during prayers. Priests administering the sacrament of Communion were told to place the consecrated wafer in worshippers' hands rather than on their tongues.
Despite the danger of infection, thousands of Catholics took part in the procession of St Roque along the streets of Quiapo, Manila, on March 11.
My prayer group meets via Discord, another platform. Others are utilising Skype, Viber and Telegram.
Kristoffer Pasion, a Baptist Protestant in Metro Manila
Religious gatherings have been shown to facilitate the rapid spread of the coronavirus in other countries, such as Malaysia where the annual Tabligh Akbar drew 16,000 pilgrims from 27 countries in late February. In South Korea, a gathering at the Shincheonji Church of Jesus was blamed for more than half of all infections in the country.
On March 16, bishops in Manila extended the suspension of public Masses until April 14, prompting churches to quickly take their services online to connect with their congregations.
“Various webcasting softwares have been utilised,” said Kristoffer Pasion, a Baptist Protestant in Metro Manila.
“A friend of mine who is a member of a different Protestant church uses Zoom to meet her small group to pray and do Bible studies. My prayer group meets via Discord, another platform. Others are utilising Skype, Viber and Telegram.”
“Churches in Manila, like the Manila Cathedral, have used YouTube live streaming and pre-recorded services online. And in some small churches, pastors have used Facebook Live from their homes to reach their congregation.”
One prayer service live streamed from Manila Cathedral on March 25 was joined by 1.5 million Catholics. Many have expressed gratitude for being able to practise their faith online.
“Thank you Manila Cathedral for the daily live Holy Mass celebration, and for the updates of incoming church activities for this Lenten season,” one member of the congregation said in a comment posted on the cathedral's Facebook page.
“Thank you for making it possible to receive the sacrament through Facebook! What a beautiful feeling to be able to participate in Holy Mass at this difficult time. I prayed the rosary through my cell phone tonight,” said another.
Mr Pasion’s church will hold its Good Friday and Easter Sunday services via YouTube and Facebook Live. However, not all churches have the necessary technology, especially in rural areas, he said.
In these areas, some people continue to attend services, although some churches have introduced precautionary measures.
The Borongan Cathedral in Eastern Samar province has placed yellow tape on its pews to limit the number of worshippers in each row to two or three, so that they remain a safe distance apart.
Winfred Hoe, a Catholic living on the outskirts of Metro Manila, said that although it was traditional to visit church during Lent, "people must accept that praying at home does not compromise one's faith".
Updated: March 31, 2020 05:45 PM