A government worker disinfects a school amid concerns over the spread of Covid-19 in Manila on March 9. (Photo: Maria Tan/AFP)
A leading Catholic bishop in the Philippine capital Manila has ordered the cancellation of public Masses from March 14-20 amid growing fears about the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.
Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Manila Archdiocese’s apostolic administrator, issued the order in a March 13 pastoral letter.
It follows an announcement by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte placing Manila in a citywide lockdown to fight the virus.
“I dispense all the faithful from the obligation of going to Mass this Sunday [March 15]. There will be no public celebration of the Holy Mass and no public activities in all the churches in the archdiocese for seven days, starting Saturday, March 14, till Friday, March 20,” Bishop Pabillo wrote.
He also urged Catholics to follow directives from the Department of Health and health experts “in the spirit of sacrifice for the good of all.”
Though Catholics cannot attend religious celebrations during these dates, “this does not mean that we no longer can come to the Lord,” said the prelate. He encouraged people to strive to be in “touch with Him through fervent prayer.”
For seven days, church bells in Manila Archdiocese will toll at noon and at 8pm to call on all people to pray the Oratio Imperata prayer to fight Covid-19.
Families are expected to gather at 8pm each day to pray the rosary and read the Scriptures.
On March 11, former Manila archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle also issued a message encouraging all Filipinos to remain courageous and hopeful despite the crisis.
Fear should not stop people remembering the poor and the vulnerable, said the cardinal who is now based in Rome as prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
Cardinal Tagle reminded Catholics to take time to reflect during the Lenten season. He highlighted the significance of fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
These, he said, are important to practice detachment from worldly pleasures and comforts. “We might think that we can do whatever we want in this world. Now we are faced with this problem. We cannot do anything. Let us, therefore, fast from doing things that give us pleasure,” the cardinal said.
Cardinal Tagle also said the Covid-19 crisis is a reminder that no one is like God who is in control of everything. He challenged every Filipino family to ensure good prevails even in moments of crisis.
Meanwhile, President Duterte has imposed a travel ban to and from Manila from March 15 to April 12. He announced the ban in a televised address on March 12.
The government has placed the entire capital under quarantine, ordered the closure of schools until April 12 and banned large gatherings, while foreigners are barred from going to areas where the virus is spreading.
There are nearly 13 million Catholics in Metro Manila.
Military and police have been drafted in to ensure the lockdown is enforced.