Overcrowding in churches a ‘concern’

·4 min read

TWO days into the holding of Misa de Gallo in Cebu, crowd control remained a problem in many churches including the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño.

While strict physical distancing was generally observed inside churches, police noted that huge crowds were gathered outside the church.

In Cebu City, this prompted police authorities to order the closure of roads surrounding the Sto. Niño Basilica and another major church, St. Therese Parish in Barangay Lahug, following incidents of overcrowding on the second day of Misa de Gallo on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020.

Colonel Josefino Ligan, Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) director, said starting Friday, Dec. 18, roads surrounding the two churches will be closed.

“In our critique session, we suggested that we will be putting barriers in roads surrounding some of the major churches like the Basilica as crowds often stay there to attend the mass,

Ligan said.

Ligan admitted CCPO had a hard time controlling the number of massgoers outside churches due to limited police personnel.

Ligan said an estimated 36,000 people attended Misa de Gallo in 35 parishes across Cebu City.

Cebu City Councilor Joel Garganera, deputy chief implementer of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), said the situation in some churches has become “a concern.”

But authorities cannot apprehend anyone “as we have to be sensitive to religious and cultural traditions,” Garganera said.

New Normal

Garganera said Mayor Edgardo Labella’s decision to suspend the use of quarantine passes gave the public an opportunity to live the new normal.

“This is an opportunity for us to take the challenge, self-regulate and discipline. But based on the last two days of Misa de Gallo, it’s very clear that we’re not that ready,” said Garganera.

Garganera also reminded the public that surges of Covid-19 cases in the city were preceded by religious and cultural events including the “binignit”-induced Carbon Market crowding incident during the Holy Week which caused a spike in cases last May and June, and the “mini surge” last November after All Souls’ Day.

Executive Order 111 issued by Labella last Dec. 9, suspended the use of quarantine passes from 12:01 a.m. of Dec. 15, 2020 until 11:59 p.m. of Dec. 25.

Cebu Archdiocese

The Archdiocese of Cebu called on parish priests to strictly follow guidelines set by local government units to avoid overcrowding and ensure that health and safety protocols are met.

“The parish priest should ensure that the protocols are followed. So the parishes should keep on reminding our parishioners,” Fr. Japheth Geonzon, vice chairman of the Cebu Archdiocesan Commission on Worship, said.

Geonzon, a member of the team of pastors of the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, said parishes like the Cathedral follow the “first come, first seated” policy and observe strict social distancing protocols within the church.

However, he admits they could not control the people hearing mass outside the church.

He encouraged massgoers, especially those who are too young, too old or are sick, to avoid going to mass. They can opt to hear masses online, said Geonzon.

2,000 people

In Mandaue City, local officials said social distancing was not observed during the first two days of the Misa de Gallo in all parishes and satellite venues.

Lawyer August Lizer Malate, chief of Mandaue City’s Emergency Operations Center, said on the first two days of Misa de Gallo, the volume of the attendees averaged 1,000 to 2,000 people per venue.

There are 15 venues that hold Misa de Gallo in Mandaue City including eight parishes, barangay gyms, and village plazas.

During their assessment meeting with Mayor Jonas Cortes on Dec. 16, Malate said overcrowding was observed in parishes and satelite venues even hours after the masses as people lingered.

Malate said they will install perimeter fences around churches to allow police assigned at the fence to limit the entry of people before reaching the actual venue.

Following incidents of overcrowding, the National Shrine of St. Joseph in Barangay Centro decided to set four schedules for Misa de Gallo and Simbang Gabi.

On its Facebook page, the Shrine announced Simbang Gabi will be held at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., while the dawn masses are at 4:30 a.m. and 6 a.m.

Curfew

In Lapu-Lapu City, Mayor Junard “Ahong” Chan has amended his previous executive order so that parishes in his city can now hold two Misa de Gallo masses a day.

Chan said instead of holding Misa de Gallo only at 5 a.m., the first Misa will start at 3 a.m. while the second will follow at 4:30 a.m.

To give way to the new mass schedules, Chan adjusted the city’s curfew from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. starting Friday, Dec. 17. / AYB / JKV, JJL, WBS, KFD, GCM /