The belfry of St. Catherine of Alexandria Church in Porac, Pampanga, is in ruins following a 6.1-magnitude earthquake that hit the northern Philippines on April 22. (Photo by Jojo Rinoza)
Church leaders in the Philippines have called on parish priests to ensure the structural integrity and security of churches following a series of strong earthquakes in recent days.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila directed priests in his archdiocese to check churches for possible cracks or damage following a 6.1 magnitude earthquake on April 22 and a 6.4 magnitude quake on April 23.
At least 16 people were reported killed and more than two dozen are missing.
Father Reginald Malicdem, chancellor of Manila Archdiocese, said the cardinal has asked priests to check parish rectories, pastoral halls and schools and take "appropriate action."
Cardinal Tagle also told the clergy to attend to people who might be hurt or displaced by the quakes.
Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga in Bataan province said three parish churches in his diocese sustained minor damage.
"Thanks be to God, the damage is minor, but we will again assess our churches," he said.
In a pastoral letter released on April 24, Archbishop Rolando Tirona of Caceres told his priests to put in place "security measures" in churches following the earthquakes and the terrorist bombings in Sri Lanka.
The prelate described the attacks in Sri Lanka and the natural calamities in the Philippines as "wake up calls" for members of the clergy to remain vigilant regarding the safety of their parishioners.
Archbishop Tirona said that "considering the frequency of natural calamities caused by climate change and the very recent damaging earthquakes," there should be periodic inspections of the structural integrity of churches, seminaries and convents.
On April 24, a magnitude 4.7 quake struck Davao Oriental province in the southern Philippines.
At least 400 aftershocks have already been reported since the April 22 temblor. The government declared at least 1,600 schools in the region closed for inspection in the central Luzon region.
The Philippines is part of the "Ring of Fire," a belt of heavy seismic activity where some 90 percent of the world's earthquakes occur, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Archbishop Tirona said the archdiocese would partner with professional groups and structural engineers, and security experts to help safeguard parishioners and buildings.
The head of the bishops’ conference, meanwhile, has offered prayers for victims of the earthquake.
"We pray that those who were injured and lost property will be comforted," said Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao.
"We also pray especially for grieving people who have lost loved ones in the earthquake and we hope recovery and help would come to these people," he added.
Archbishop Valles reminded Catholics to be ready for calamities, "which are difficult to predict."