Philippines to hold Lenten rituals amid coronavirus fears

Ash may only be sprinkled on people's heads instead of marking the forehead as a precaution on Ash Wednesday
Philippines to hold Lenten rituals amid coronavirus fears

A nun applies ash to a woman’s forehead on Ash Wednesday at a church in Manila in 2019. (Photo: Ted Aljibe/AFP)

There will be no suspension of Masses and Lenten rituals in the Philippines amid fears of the spread of the dreaded COVID-19 coronavirus.

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, vice-president of the Catholic bishops' conference, said churches will instead “implement precautionary measures.”

Lenten observance will start on Feb. 26, Ash Wednesday, with the traditional ritual of Catholics having their foreheads marked with ash as a sign of penance.

Bishop David said that as a precautionary measure ashes may just be sprinkled on the head of Catholics instead of marking the forehead.

In Hong Kong, church officials announced the suspension of public Masses on Sundays and weekdays for two weeks, and the cancellation of the liturgy on Ash Wednesday.

Catholic Filipino workers living in Hong Kong have been advised to pray at home.

"Even if there will be no public Masses, in their own homes, we advise our [Filipino workers] to pray more," said Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, vice-chairman of the Episcopal Commission Migrants and Itinerant People.

"Pray for the eradication of COVID 19, its cure and the healing of those infected." 

Bishop Santos also reminded Filipinos abroad to practice fasting and abstinence during the observance of Ash Wednesday despite the cancellation of its liturgy.

Philippine authorities reported on Feb. 17 that there were now 27 infected Filipinos on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked and under quarantine in Yokohama, Japan. The number includes 16 new cases confirmed on Feb. 15.

An estimated 531 Filipino crew members and seafarers, as well as seven Filipino passengers, are on board the ship.

Philippine Church leaders earlier implemented measures to avoid the spread of the virus, including prohibiting the wiping and kissing of religious images.

Holding hands when praying the Lord's Prayer is also discouraged, and Catholics are being told to receive Communion by hand.

Several dioceses have issued guidelines for churches and worshipers to prevent the spread of the virus. Prayers have also been circulated.

In Cebu Archdiocese, people have been urged to pray for a stop to all "threats to life," including the virus.

In his homily during the annual Walk for Life event on Feb. 15, Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu called for prayers "for solutions to the problems occurring around the world."

"We pray that the [COVID-19] epidemic will stop," said Bishop Palma, adding that the virus has negatively impacted the country’s economy.

As of Feb. 16, the Philippines' Department of Health announced that it had investigated 498 patients for possible infection of the virus.

The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak an international emergency, warning that the novel coronavirus poses a "very grave threat."

So far, the virus has killed 1,770 people and infected more than 70,500 in mainland China.

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