A man puts the final touches to the tomb of a loved one in the northern Philippine province of Pangasinan ahead of the observance of All Souls' Day in this Nov. 2, 2017, file photo. (Photo: Karl Romano)
Churchgoers in the Philippine capital and other cities are going to have to celebrate All Souls’ Day at home this year after authorities announced on Sept. 13 that cemeteries will be locked down from Oct. 31 to Nov. 3 to avoid mass Covid-19 infections.
Millions of Filipinos visit the graves of their loved ones during the annual celebration of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day to show respect to departed family members and friends.
More than 1.7 million people flocked to Manila cemeteries to pay respects to deceased loved ones in 2019, according to government figures.
The visit usually begins a week before Nov. 2 when families clean and paint graves for the visit. Families also pray novenas and bring food to the cemetery as part of a tradition honoring the dead.
“We are closing all cemeteries, memorial parks and columbariums from Oct. 31 to Nov. 3 … as there is compelling need to avoid an influx of people to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” Manila mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso said in a statement.
“Since World War II, this is, I think, the first time we [the government] are closing cemeteries to the public on All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day. We hope people will understand this decision since the virus is still out there.”
Domagoso encouraged Manila churchgoers to remember and pray for their loved ones at home instead of exposing themselves to the virus.
“We can still honor our beloved dead in a different way. Yes, we have a tradition as a people but we also need to do our part in order to flatten the curve. It is a sacrifice that we all need to make as citizens of the country,” Domagoso added.
Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga said his diocese in Bataan province had recommended suspending all All Souls’ Day celebrations including visits to cemeteries.
“We prioritize public safety and security with this pandemic. Even before the government announced the suspension, we in the diocese had already informed the provincial government that the diocese [of Balanga] was discouraging public gatherings in cemeteries,” said Bishop Santos in a statement.
Bishop Santos reminded churchgoers that the best way to honor the dead is to live the positive attitude and values they possessed when they were living.
“To remember them is to relive their good deeds. The best way to honor them is to remember them as models of virtue, learn from their imperfections in order to live a better Christian life,” Bishop Santos added.
Churchgoers have accepted the cemetery ban.
“We will honor this directive of the government and our bishops. Although it feels really unusual not to visit the final resting places of our loved ones, we need to adjust to the new normal,” Quezon City parishioner Carl Romeo Castrence said.
He said churchgoers should understand the move is for the common good.