Manila churches suspend Masses amid coronavirus lockdown

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Leaders of the Catholic Church, the predominant religion in the Philippines, suspended Masses in parts of Metro Manila starting Saturday, March 14, after the Duterte government announced it is placing the capital region on lockdown due to the novel coronavirus.

Masses have been suspended in the following parts of the Philippines’ capital region: Manila, Makati, Pasay, San Juan, Mandaluyong, Pasig, Taguig, Pateros, Parañaque, Las Piñas, Muntinlupa, Quezon City, and northern Caloocan City. 

The Archdiocese of Manila has suspended public Masses for 7 days starting Saturday, according to its temporary head Bishop Broderick Pabillo on Friday, March 13.

The Archdiocese of Manila covers the cities of Manila, Makati, Pasay, San Juan, and Mandaluyong.

His directive does not apply to other dioceses or Catholic territories in Metro Manila, each of which has its own bishop.

Later on Friday, the Diocese of Cubao, which covers the southern part of Quezon City, also announced the indefinite suspension of Masses starting March 14.

The decision was made by Cubao Bishop Honesto Ongtioco, who meanwhile allowed the diocese's priests to say Masses in private and to air these via livestream.

Pasig Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergara also suspended public Masses in his diocese starting March 14. The Diocese of Pasig covers Pasig, Taguig, and Pateros.

The Diocese of Parañaque, led by Bishop Jesse Mercado, meanwhile said there will be no public Masses from March 15 to 21. This diocese covers Parañaque, Las Piñas, and Muntinlupa.

The Diocese of Novaliches, which covers the northern parts of Quezon City and Caloocan City, has had no public Masses since Friday. The suspension will last until April 12, said Novaliches Bishop Roberto Gaa. 

In a pastoral letter on Friday, Pabillo cited the government’s decision to raise Code Red Sublevel 2, the highest alert level for disease outbreaks, in the Philippines’ capital region.

“We are enjoined to avoid large gatherings of people to avert the further spread of the virus. We heed this call not with panic but with care for charity to others and the common good,” said Pabillo.

“Hence in the Archdiocese of Manila I dispense all the faithful from the obligation of going to Mass this Sunday. There will be no public celebration of the Holy Mass and no public activities in all the churches in the Archdiocese for 7 days, starting Saturday, March 14, till Friday, March 20,” the bishop added.

This is the first time in recent history that Masses have been suspended in a major part of the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country.

Roughly 8 out of 10 Filipinos belong to the Catholic Church, and Sunday Masses have been part of Filipinos’ lives for centuries.

The suspension of public Masses is one of the major disruptions caused by the government’s lockdown of Metro Manila, which lasts from March 15 to April 14. 

Metro Manila is a region of more than 12 million people, but this number swells to up to 15 million at daytime, when Filipinos from nearby provinces such as Laguna and Bulacan flock to the metro to work. 

While Masses are suspended in the Archdiocese of Manila, Pabillo advised Catholics to watch online Masses on church-run stations Radio Veritas and TV Maria, and on the social media pages of Quiapo Church and other Catholic churches. 

Pabillo also called for the tolling of church bells at noon and at 8 pm every day, from March 14 onwards, to call on Catholics to pray to fight the coronavirus. 

“In the spirit of Lent let us accompany our prayer with acts of penance and charity,” Pabillo added. “Let not fear run our lives. Hence we avoid panic buying. We should not consider only our needs but also the needs of others.” – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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