'Not the Mass I dreamed of': Empty churches haunt Holy Week for 2nd year due to COVID-19

Erik Tenedero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 23 2021 08:45 PM

'Not the Mass I dreamed of': Empty churches haunt Holy Week for 2nd year due to COVID-19 1
Rev. Fr. Ritz Darwin Resuello of the Diocese of Malolos during a Holy Mass. 

For predominantly Catholic Philippines, Holy Week is the crescendo in one's religious life. From dramatic liturgies in churches to processions, chanting of Christ's passion, and visits to pilgrim sites — Filipinos never go amiss in fulfilling their respective "panata" or vow. 

But for the second year, most churches in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Laguna and Rizal are shutting their doors to public worshippers to adhere to government's rule of disallowing religious gatherings beginning March 22 to April 4. 

The decision was made after the country saw new records daily tallies in COVID-19 infections in successive days, peaking at over 8,000 cases on Monday, the all-time high. 

For a young priest like Rev. Fr. Ritz Darwin Resuello, parochial vicar of of the San Isidro-San Roque Parish in Meycauayan, Bulacan, the situation is somehow disheartening. He said it feels like his ministry as a pastor is being challenged once again. 

"Ngayong bumalik na naman ang limitasyon sa pisikal na presensya ng mga tao sa Banal na Misa – papalapit pa naman ang mga Mahal na Araw, kung saan nakapaloob ang pagdiriwang ng rurok ng pananapampalatayang Kristiyano – hinahamon na naman ako bilang isang batang pari na patuloy na magtiwala at manampalataya; hindi lamunin ng takot at paninisi," the 31-year-old priest said in an interview with ABS-CBN News. 

[Now that the limitation for the physical presence of the public in Holy Mass is back — coinciding with Holy Week, which includes the climax of the celebration of the Christian faith — I am being challenged once again as a young priest to continue to trust and have faith, not cower in fear and blame.] 

In the Archdiocese of Manila, Apostolic Administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo insisted that churches in the city will open at 10% capacity for some liturgies. But many churches in the region will have to contend with the absence of the public while still holding the usual holy week rites. 

According to several dioceses, which already released their respective circulars for the holy week, the following will be observed:

  • Holy Masses and other religious and spiritual activities will be held inside churches and will be available for the public through online streaming
  • Senakulo, pabasa ng pasyon, processions, motorcades, and visita iglesia are not allowed
  • There will be a special arrangement for the Chrism Mass, which includes the blessing of the holy oils and the renewal of priestly vows, as it is usually attended by all priests within the diocese/archdiocese 

Closure of churches in the NCR Plus bubble is a familiar scenario, almost a repeat of last year when the pandemic was just starting in the country. It was also during that time when Resuello penned an impassioned poem after celebrating his first Mass "sine populo" (without the presence of the people). 

In his piece, he said:

"Hindi ito ang Misang pinangarap ko.
Hindi ito ang pagkaparing pinaghandaan ko. 
Puso ko’y lumuluha, nagmamakaawa sa Iyo.
Iligtas mo kami mula sa salot ng sakit na ito."

[This is not the Mass that dreamed of. 
This is not the priesthood I've prepared for. 
My heart weeps, to you I plea.
Save us from the plague of this disease.]

 

The young priest, who is now on the third year of his ministry, admitted that the absence of parishioners has had an effect on him. 

"Higit sa lungkot at pagkailang dahil nagsasalita akong tila walang kausap lalo na sa homilya, mas matindi sa puso ko bilang isang pari ang panghihinayang na ang awa ng Diyos na pinagkakaloob sa pamamagitan ng mga Sakramento at ang pagmamakaawa ng tao sa harap ng Diyos sa dambana ay nalilimitahan," Resuello explained. 

[More than the sadness and the awkwardness because it almost feels like I am talking to no one, especially during homily, I regret the fact that the mercy of God which is given through the sacrament and the cries of people in front of God in the altar is being limited.] 

A year after penning the poem, the Bulakeño priest said he still tries his best to offer prayers, especially the sacrifice of the mass, with the same vigor and spirituality. And with it carries the hope that the usual life in Church will go back to the way it was.

"Sa totoo lang, medyo nakakapagod na, nakakapanlumo na. Subalit sa liwanag ng pananampalataya, ang isang taong mahaba sa mata ng mga tao ay sandali pa rin sa Diyos," Resuello admitted.

(Honestly, it's exhausting, it's saddening. But with the light of faith, a year that feels long for man is just a blink for God.)
 
To adapt to the challenges posed by the pandemic, Resuello and his brother priests are employing digital means to continue their ministry. He said they have an online bible study, online catechism, and online recollection. 

Unlike last year, a small gathering for some sacraments are now allowed (maximum of 10 people), including baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Resuello also added that churches continue to do its charitable work despite bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

He admitted that it is very challenging being a priest amid this crisis. But true to his vow, he draws his strength from God and advised people to do the same. 

"Hindi ito karuwagan. Ito ay malasakit natin sa nahihirapan nang mga medical frontliner. Ito ay aktibo nating pakikilahok sa may konsiyensyang pagsugpo sa COVID-19," Resuello said. 

"Hindi natin iniiwan ang Panginoong Hesukristo; pinahahalagahan lang natin sa ganitong paraan ang kalusugan ng mga taong mahal at mahalaga sa kanya." 

[This is not cowardice. This is just a way of supporting our suffering medical frontliners. This is us joining the fight against COVID-19. We are not abandoning Jesus Christ; but in this way, we are valuing the people that he loves and are important to Him.] 

 RELATED VIDEO: 

Watch more News on iWantTFC