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Manila bishops call off Holy Week celebrations

Covid-19 fears prompt prelates to tell Catholics to follow celebrations from home

Manila bishops call off Holy Week celebrations

A soldier checks the temperature of a motorist at a checkpoint before entering Manila on March 16, (Photo: Maria Tan/AFP)


Bishops in the Philippine capital Manila have canceled all liturgical celebrations during Holy Week, including pilgrimages and devotions

“There will be no blessing of palms, Visita Iglesia, Siete Palabras, Good Friday Procession or Easter Salubong,” the bishops said in a pastoral letter issued on March 16.

The Easter Salubong, or meeting, is the re-enactment of the Virgin Mary’s first meeting with the resurrected Christ.

Instead of conducting public liturgies or celebrations, the bishops are encouraging Catholics to stay at home and follow activities on TV, radio or online.

Catholics are also called upon “to pray the rosary as it is a good prayer to meditate on the mysteries of the life of the Lord that we intensely celebrate in the universal Church during the Holy Week,” the pastoral letter said.

The pronouncement is in response to a government directive suspending all gatherings from March 15 to April 14 due to the rapidly spreading Covid-19 virus.

“There will be no celebration of Holy Mass within the period, including the conduct of liturgical rites with the participation of the public,” said Bishop Broderick Pabillo, apostolic administrator of Manila Archdiocese.

Catholic media groups, including Jesuit Communications, are discussing how best to serve Catholics during Holy Week, such as with Masses and online retreats. Dioceses have also begun live-streaming Masses and Lenten recollections.

Meanwhile, former Manila archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, now prefect of the Evangelization of Peoples, led a Lenten Recollection from the Pontificio Collegio Filippino in Rome on March 15.

The cardinal reflected on the “washing of hands” of Jesus. It is not only about physical purification but also has a spiritual dimension, he said.  

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“Some people will say that the hands of Jesus were dirty because they touched his saliva, lepers and the unclean. But these are the hands of the Son of Man. These are the very same hands that raised two fish and five loaves of bread that fed thousands,” Cardinal Tagle said.

He said that although this is a time for people to wash hands due to the Covid-19 outbreak, “this is not the time for Catholics to be uncaring, insensitive and irresponsible towards the least [poor].”

“Let us not wash our hands by blaming people. Those who are engaged in panic buying. You are blessed because you have money to buy. But some people panic yet cannot buy anything. Could you not wash your hands as Jesus did? Can you open your eyes and from within, let the tears of compassion wash your vision to see a neighbor?” the cardinal asked.

As of March 15, the number of coronavirus cases in the Philippines stood at 140 with 12 deaths, according to the Department of Health.

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