Manila archdiocese to open churches on Holy Week; Palace warns vs defiance of COVID curbs

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 23 2021 03:45 PM | Updated as of Mar 23 2021 08:55 PM

Manila archdiocese to open churches on Holy Week; Palace warns vs defiance of COVID curbs 1
Devotees attend a Mass to celebrate the Feast of the Black Nazarene at the San Sebastian Church in Manila on January 09, 2021. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) — The Archdiocese of Manila on Tuesday said it would open its churches for worship at limited capacity on Holy Week, a move that Malacañang said was against protocols to curb the surge in COVID-19 infections. 

In a pastoral instruction for Holy Week, Manila Apostolic Administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo said there would be "no religious activity outside of our churches such as senakulo, pabasa, processions, motorcades, and visita iglesia." 

"But within our churches starting March 24, we will have our religious worship within 10% of our maximum church capacity," he added. The pastoral instruction was uploaded on Facebook by the Archdiocese of Manila Office of Communications. 

"Let the worshippers be spread apart within our churches, using the health protocols that we have been so consistently implementing," read the document. 


The government has banned all mass gatherings, including religious gatherings, in Metro Manila and 4 surrounding provinces until April 4 to curb an uptick in COVID-19 cases. 


In an interview with Radio Veritas, Pabillo said many activities would be streamed online.

The bishop also decried the government’s ban of religious gatherings amid the surge of COVID-19 cases while allowing spas, gyms, and restaurants to operate.

He said the inter-agency task force on the country’s pandemic response violated religious freedom and the principle of separation of Church and State by imposing restrictions without even consulting the Church.

“Mayroon po tayong religious freedom. Hindi nila pwede tayong pagbawalan sa ating religious activities within the church. Sumusunod naman tayo sa patakaran. Nakita naman na ang ating Simbang Gabi ang daming tao, sa ating Nazareno na ang daming tao, mga piyesta ang dami ring tao, wala namang nangyayari sa atin,” Pabillo said on Radio Veritas.

(We have religious freedom, and they cannot restrict our religious activities. We have followed the protocols and guidelines which were manifested during the Feast of the Nazareno and the Simbang Gabi, when many people went to the Church, and nothing bad happened to us.) 

He also reiterated that the Catholic Church followed the guidelines on minimum health protocols, as churches were allowed to operate at a bigger capacity under general community quarantine. 

“Kaya tuloy tayo sa ating activities. Limited, na mayroon tayong social distancing, tuloy tayo sa ating online activities, ini-encourage natin pero kung sinong faithful na gustong dumating within our limits at tayo ang magli-limit sa loob ng simbahan natin, hindi sila, ipagpapatuloy natin,” he said. 

(We will continue with our activities. It may be limited because of physical distancing. Our online activities will push through, and we encourage the faithful who want to join us physically to be aware of our limits inside the church.)

Instructions on how each celebration of the Holy Week will be done will also be issued by the Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission “in a few days,” he said. 

According to Pabillo’s pastoral instructions, the Consecration of the Holy Chrism and Blessing of the Oil of the Sick in the Manila Cathedral will proceed on Holy Wednesday, with the simple Chrism Mass to be attended only by a few priests and few faithful.

The faithful were also encouraged to participate through the Archdiocese’s online activities, as well as in the social media platforms of the Diocese of Maasin for its celebration of the 500th anniversary of the first mass in Limasawa on Mar. 31.

They were invited as well to join in the online Archdiocesan Way of the Cross on Holy Thursday, with the Last Supper Mass and prayers before the reposed Blessed Sacrament in each parish to be covered online. 

On Good Friday, parishes can organize their own online Way of the Cross and reflections on Jesus’ Seven Last Words.

Meanwhile, on Holy Saturday, the faithful will be invited to join TV Maria and Radio Veritas for the Tenebrae, a set of prayers that commemorate the death of Jesus.

The faithful were urged to join the Easter Vigil mass online, which will be done in all parishes.

On Easter Sunday, the opening of the jubilee year for the celebration for the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity will proceed with the opening of the Holy Door at the Manila Cathedral at 10 a.m. The faithful were urged to join online in the celebration.


The planned opening of churches "would be contrary po to the decision of the IATF," said Palace spokesman Harry Roque. 

"We ask Bishop Pabillo not to encourage disregard of IATF rules. Ito naman po ay para sa kabutihan ng lahat," he said in a press briefing.

(This is for the good of everyone anyway.) 

If churches push through with their opening, Roque said, "in the exercise of police powers, we can order the churches closed." 
"Huwag sana pong dumating doon, Bishop Pabillo. Wala po tayong makakamit na kahit anong objective if you will defy and you will force the state to close the doors of the church," he added. 

(We hope it will not come to that Bishop Pabillo. We cannot achieve any objective if you will defy and you will force the state to close the doors of the church.)

The Philippines on Monday reported a record daily rise of 8,019 COVID-19 infections, as authorities started implementing tighter curbs in the congested capital region and as hospital capacity neared critical levels in some areas.

In a bulletin, the health department said total confirmed cases had reached 671,792, while deaths increased by four to 12,972. It was the third time the Philippines has posted a new record high in daily cases in the past four days. 

Intensive care departments of hospitals in the capital were nearing critical levels, government data showed.

The new wave of cases in the Philippines, which has the second highest number of COVID-19 infections and deaths in Southeast Asia, is also threatening hopes of a strong economic rebound after a record contraction last year and the loss of millions of jobs.

Tighter measures could reduce the number of new cases by at least 25 percent, Roque told a news conference on Monday.

The Philippines, which launched its vaccination drive later than neighbors at the start of this month, has received 1.125 million donated doses of the Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines.

The government plans to inoculate 70 million adults as it seeks to achieve herd immunity.

— With a report from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News and Reuters 

Video courtesy of PTV