TWO different homilies, priests, occasions; same message. Livestreamed on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, were two masses separately offered for the Black Nazarene in the Quiapo Church and the Sto. Niño in the Basilica del Sto. Niño de Cebu.
Drawing the yearly attendance of millions of devotees, this year’s January novena and other fiesta events organized for the two major religious icons have been drastically modified by prohibitions on mass gatherings to prevent the resurgence of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
Despite limitations on the number of parishioners allowed to enter the Quiapo Church and the Basilica, many parishioners still turn up at these popular places of worship, either succeeding or getting turned away by civil authorities.
The latter receives the sympathy of some priests celebrating the masses, who mention during their homilies the great effort and resources expended by devotees desiring to fulfill a “panata (vow)” or offer thanksgiving by attending the novena masses in person.
“Kawawa” or “kalooy” express in Tagalog and Cebuano some of the members of the clergy’s sympathy for ordinary Filipinos who are frustrated in their sacrifices or attempts to physically join the novena. Anecdotes during the Jan. 9 homilies viewed online by “SunStar Cebu” showed that the mass celebrants empathized with the confusion and frustration of devotees traveling from afar and sleeping in parks and public grounds, only to be turned away at the church gates by Covid-19 restrictions against mass assemblies.
Other members of the clergy do not clarify and guide the public when they seemingly condone some citizens’ efforts to go around the restrictions. The priest conducting the final novena mass at the Basilica on Jan. 9 ribbed, instead of chiding, parishioners who responded to his inquiry on how many of those attending the mass in person at the Pilgrim Center resided outside of Cebu City but managed to get past the security manning the Basilica entrance.
Restrictions on in-person mass attendance have ended in the Jan. 9 arrest of a Cebu City resident selling fake quarantine passes for those attempting to enter Basilica grounds. There is a disquieting split in Christian values among devotees who do not see lawbreaking as not just a hypocrisy but a denial of one’s faith.
The clergy must focus the faithful on the Christian and civic duty to protect his or her health and that of other citizens by opting for broadcasted and livestreamed masses, which are measures upholding freedom to practice one’s faith while curbing the community transmission of the Covid-19.
On Jan. 10 a “SunStar Cebu” team reported that only Cebu City residents carrying quarantine passes issued by the Cebu City Government will be permitted to attend the remaining seven novena masses at the Basilica.
Cebu City and church officials agreed to maintain vigilance through physical distancing. On Jan. 9, Cebu City logged 59 new Covid-19 cases, based on the city’s Emergency Operations Center.
Furthermore, the more contagious UK variant may already be in the country, warned the Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against Covid-19 in a Jan. 9 report on the news website Rappler.
Thus, the social communications campaign of the church should reiterate the Christian and social responsibility to safeguard the public from Covid-19, which has so far afflicted nearly half a million Filipinos and killed more than 9,000 in the country.
Church leaders must tap their formidable network of media partners that are livestreaming or disseminating through the trimedia novena masses.
Yet, few platforms are as powerful as the pulpit to inform and educate Filipinos on the seamless symmetry between authentic spirituality and good citizenship.
Instead of presenting the Basilica novena masses as a showdown between the faithful in Cebu City versus devotees from outside the city, priests should be prudent shepherds steering the public in trials that test bodies and spirits.