Empty Catholic churches survive on generosity amid pandemic

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 08 2020 08:48 PM

Devotees attend a 'new normal' Mass at the Baclaran Church in Parañaque City on Sept. 2, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA--Churches are bracing for a protracted pandemic, surviving the last 6 months on creative fundraising, belt-tightening, and the generosity of parishioners reaching deep into their pockets despite their own struggles with COVID-19 lockdowns.

Parishes are mainly dependent on collection during Mass, which dried up when the government imposed community quarantines beginning mid-March to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.

They have since been struggling even if authorities eased restrictions and allowed religious gatherings of up to 10 percent of a venue's seating capacity starting this month.

A Mass at the Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Socorro Parish in Sampaloc, Manila is livestreamed on Facebook. Photo courtesy of the Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Socorro Parish

Parishioners are still reluctant, said Fr. Jerome Secillano, who runs a parish in Manila's Sampaloc district, despite positive signs that the infection may be slowing down in some areas.

The Philippines had more than 240,000 cases as of Tuesday with 52,893 considered active.

"Medyo takot pa rin ang mga tao," he told ABS-CBN News, noting that only 15 people attended his Mass last Sunday,.

(People are still afraid.)

What Fr. Nicanor Lalog's parish in Sta. Maria, Bulacan used to raise in one Sunday Mass now takes a month, forcing the church to drastically scale down operations and limit spending on the essentials: food and utilities.

Like in other parishes, Lalog opted to forego collection during the offertory knowing that many of the parishioners were struggling as well, as the lockdown shut down businesses and forced many of them out of work.

"Alam ko mahirap ang buhay at gusto lang nila talaga magsimba," he said.

(I know life is hard and they just want to attend Mass.)

But food and cash donations still come in from those worried about how their parish could survive the pandemic. "They're very generous," Lalog said.

Fr. Nicanor Lalog at the ‘drive-thru’ communion he introduced for parishioners in Sta. Maria, Bulacan during the coronavirus pandemic in May. Courtesy of San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista Parish

 THEY GIVE EVEN A LITTLE

Secillano said he also saw the generosity from parishioners with money to spare, usually sending donations through the church's bank account to minimize physical interaction.

At the Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Quezon City, Fr. Michel Joe Zerrudo and his staff resorted to "multitasking" to make up for the work previously assigned to those who had to stay at home during the early months of the lockdown. Aside from his priestly duties, he took charge of the dishes and some basic gardening.

Twice weekly, he sets up a long table selling fruits and vegetables sourced from a local "bagsakan" (wholesale market) to augment the parish's income, which was severely depleted during the pandemic.

Photos courtesy of the Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Quezon City

"We have transformed the temple of the Lord into a marketplace," he said with a touch of humor, drawing parallels between the fundraiser and the Apostle Paul's tent making in the Bible.

Msgr. Pepe Quitorio said his parish in Borongan, Eastern Samar could still subsist on donations and support from the diocese early during the lockdown.

In Manila, Secillano said the archdiocese was assessing how individual parishes were coping and would provide support in case their financial situation worsened.

A large crowd gathers outside Quiapo Church at Plaza Miranda in Manila to hear Mass on Sept. 4, 2020. The government has allowed only 10% of the church's capacity inside every mass but devotees still came for the First Friday mass, which is considered important in the Roman Catholic church.

The Quiapo Church, for instance, offered cash aid to some of the poorest parishes, he said.

"Sa Archdiocese of Manila, maraming mahihirap na parokya. Medyo badly hit talaga," he told ABS-CBN News.

(In the Archdiocese of Manila, there are many poor parishes that are badly hit.)

Judging by the experience in his Bulacan parish, Lalog said the pandemic might have crippled physical movement and Mass attendance, but not individual generosity.

"Even the poor, they give even a little," he said.