Calling the overcrowding at churches in Cebu City during the first two days of dawn masses or Misa de Gallo “a concern” may be an understatement.
Photos that were posted on social media of the masses which started on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020 showed that what was going on inside was a world apart from what was going on outside.
Church officials made sure minimum health standards were observed by mass-goers who were allowed in.
Hence, in the case of the Pilgrim’s Center at the Basilica del Sto. Niño, chairs were evenly spaced so their occupants were at least two meters away from each other. Even those who took to the bleachers had to comply with social distancing rules.
Roving officials and security cameras made sure the occasion was solemn. Their presence discouraged mass-goers from engaging in “social activity” while the mass was ongoing.
It appeared, for all intents and purposes, that church officials kept their part of the bargain when the holding of dawn masses was given the go-signal.
They maintained peace and order and made sure health protocols to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic were in place.
However, what happened outside the churches’ fences was another matter.
Devout Catholics gathered by the hundreds, filling entire streets and sequestering portions of the highway. They overwhelmed police personnel; members of the Task Force Kasaligan and the Prevention, Restoration, Order, Beautification and Enhancement; and volunteers who were deployed to monitor their numbers.
Col. Josefino Ligan, director of the Cebu City Police Office (CCPO), admitted that they had a “hard time controlling the number of mass-goers outside churches due to limited police personnel” who were spread out across 35 parishes in the city.
This prompted the CCPO to order the closure of roads surrounding the basilica and the St. Therese Parish in Barangay Lahug after the crowd situation on the second day of the Misa de Gallo didn’t improve.
City Councilor Joel Garganera, deputy chief implementer of the city’s Emergency Operations Center, said they could not apprehend anyone “as we have to be sensitive to religious and cultural traditions.”
But what we have learned since the outbreak started more than nine months ago is that Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, doesn’t discriminate on the basis of religion, which was why the City and the other local government units in Metro Cebu did not allow their Muslim residents to celebrate the end of Ramadan back in May.