No holy water, 'mano po': Church's 12 measures vs coronavirus
MANILA, Philippines – No more holy water by the church entrance. Communion should be received by the hand. Instead of the traditional pagmamano, a bow with a smile will do.
The Archdiocese of Manila, the most influential Catholic territory in the Philippines, released a list of precautionary measures for churches and church-run institutions against the novel coronavirus disease called COVID-19.
The list was contained in a pastoral letter dated Monday, March 9, signed by Bishop Broderick Pabillo, temporary head of the archdiocese while Pope Francis is yet to pick the replacement of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, who now heads a powerful Vatican office.
Strictly speaking, these precautionary measures apply only to the Archdiocese of Manila's jurisdiction: the cities of Manila, Makati, Pasay, San Juan, and Mandaluyong. Bishops of other places act on their own and report directly to the Pope. The Archdiocese of Manila is, however, traditionally considered the first among equals in the Philippine Catholic Church, and its actions can influence other Catholic territories across the country.
Here are the Archdiocese of Manila's 12 precautionary measures against the coronavirus, quoted verbatim from Pabillo’s pastoral letter:
1. Suspend the practice of dipping of hands in the holy water font or stoup. Empty all fonts and let the faithful be informed that such practice will be temporarily suspended. Holy water can be made available for people to take home or sprinkling of the holy water can be done before or after liturgical gatherings.
2. Let containers of 70% ethyl alcohol be located at various entrance doors accessible to the public in our church institutions.
3. Advise the faithful to stay home when they are sick with flu-like symptoms and cough. They should get medical attention for their good and the good of their family members. Signages may be posted to this effect in prominent places. They can sanctify the Lord’s Day by praying in their homes and reading the Scriptures. TV Masses are available for them to watch at the Quiapo Church Facebook and website as well as TV Maria. Radio Veritas also airs Masses regularly and other parishes have their own video streaming facilities. Priests and lay ministers who have flu-like symptoms should also refrain from serving. This is an act of charity that we can offer to the people.
4. Routinely clean with disinfectants the high-touch areas, pews, benches, and door knobs, as well as microphone covers.
5. All should take care to observe cough etiquette (like covering their mouth with their sleeves or napkins which they should immediately dispose in safe places). Frequent hand washing is to be promoted to all.
6. Remind all that we need not hold hands when praying the Lord’s Prayer and when giving the sign of peace. For the time being, the beautiful Filipino sign of reverence in holding the hands of the priests and the elderly (the “mano po”) can be substituted by a slight bow with a smile or by a slight touch on the head for the giving of the blessing.
7. Until the virus is overcome all should refrain from the kissing and holding of statues and sacred images, and even the glass frames that protect them. Let barriers be installed so that people do not get near them to touch them.
8. Let ministers and priests thoroughly wash their hands before they serve. For the time being, holy communion is to be received by the faithful by hand.
9. Those parishioners who are weak or have non-communicable diseases like diabetes, cancer, etc. are encouraged to wear masks even during Holy Mass.
10. Churches and adoration chapels with air-conditioning and hardly any windows should be biomisted. Air purifier perhaps may be of help but it will be very expensive and there is no clear evidence of its effectiveness in large areas like churches. Open windows and doors after Mass and shut off the air conditioning in order for the air, heat and sunlight to circulate.
11. The World Health Organization (WHO) confirms that the coronavirus may spread through money. Those who count the money must wear mask and use alcohol after counting. It is good that they be provided with latex gloves.
12. Let the parishes be prepared for the economic effects of the COVID-19 phenomenon. Worst case scenario would be the suspension of public gatherings. We need to save at this time of impending crisis. Let us make our church institutions resilient. At this time, let expenses be made only in what is essential in order to save for any eventualities. Let us suspend purchases on capital expenditures and make our programs frugal. What we can save, let us put in a disaster resiliency fund. In this way, in case we have no collections, we may sustain the salaries of our employees maintain our religious institutions.
State of public health emergency
The Archdiocese of Manila released these guidelines as the Philippine government is under a state of public health emergency due to the coronavirus. The Philippine Department of Health said there are at least 33 novel coronavirus cases in the Philippines, including one death, as of Tuesday, March 10. Around the world, COVID-19 has affected at least 109,577 people and killed 3,809 as of Monday.
Pabillo said: “I encourage all to intensify our prayers to ask for Divine protection and intervention. Faith can avert evil. While we pray, let us also exercise good stewardship over our health. In the spirit of Lent let us keep a healthy lifestyle so that our bodies may be strong enough to resist infections. Thus eat healthy food, have enough rest, keep clean, get enough exercise, and avoid unnecessary travels and gatherings of large crowds.”
These guidelines show how the coronavirus has changed even the way people around the world practice their faith. Many of these measures, such as the advisory to receive communion by the hand and not by the mouth, have attracted theological debates, but church leaders defend these measures as necessary to contain COVID-19.
Pope Francis himself on Sunday, March 8, started delivering his weekly Angelus prayer via livestream, not in person, to avoid the spread of the virus. The Vatican also started livestreaming his daily Masses at his residence. (READ: 'Caged' Pope Francis receives guests – from afar)
Other religious groups around the world have implemented their own precautionary measures.
In Singapore, the Catholic Church suspended public Masses from February 15 to March 13 as they installed thermal scanners and organized contact tracing methods for parishioners. Public Masses in other affected countries, such as Italy, however remain suspended.
The Islamic community in Singapore also implemented its own rules, including an advisory against shaking hands in prayer services.
Like "communion by the hand" advisory for Catholics, the guideline against shaking hands for Singapore's Muslim community also drew controversy, as critics said it goes against the teaching of the Prophet Muhammad. Muslim leaders however stood by this reminder, as the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore said it's not enough to trust in God without humans doing their part. – Rappler.com