Virtual Masses, domestic Church: How Cebu is coping with Holy Week amid COVID-19
CEBU CITY, Philippines – In his 25 years serving the Roman Catholic church, Monsignor Ruben Labajo is expecting virtually empty churches in Cebu during the Holy Week.
Labajo, who is one of the vicar-generals of the Archdiocese of Cebu, has also started to learn the ways in navigating social media and the internet.
“Who would have thought we could come down to this,” Labajo said in Cebuano and in jest.
Priests and church officials here in Cebu like Labajo are racing to find innovative means to keep in touch with the faithful for the Holy Week amid threats of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
The pandemic, which has infected over 3,000 individuals in the Philippines and more than 1.4 million people worldwide, led most countries to impose lockdowns to curb its spread.
Here in Cebu, the celebration of Holy Week, a highlight in the liturgical calendar, comes at a time when the entire island is under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
Restricted mobility and banning of public gatherings, such as those inside churches, are some of the consequences of having an ECQ.
The Archdiocese of Cebu even adopted guidelines and measures to ensure that the celebration of Holy Week will be safe.
But that did not stop the church from reaching out to Cebuanos, and keep their faith alive in times like these.
“This does not mean the actual Church is disconnected. We’re still here. The Archbishop is still here. In Church’s history, there were a number of dark ages. But God does not allow darkness to reign forever. That is why amid the darkness, light comes out,” Labajao said.
“While there may be negative consequences brought about by COVID-19, there are also positive ones,” he added.
Labajo said the help of youth volunteers enabled them to set-up livestreaming broadcasts on the archdiocese’s official Facebook page, and produce multimedia videos featuring Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma.
“This time, we’ve learned the advantage of social media and maximizing it so that our faithfuls can still connect with the church without physically attending our activities,” said Labajo.
With this, Labajo also encouraged devotees to stay tuned for updates not only from their local parishes but also other churches online.
“With social media, we saw how that a lot of options can be offered to the public. So, we suggest them to also explore livestream Masses of other parishes,” he said.
He added that the Archdiocese of Cebu is also planning to send messages of support, encouragement, and healing to workers at the frontlines and patients combatting COVID-19.
“This includes our plans to also come up with videos for those who lost their loved ones in order to console them, and to hear the forgiveness of God in difficult times like this,” Labajo said.
The Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral has also ramped up its social media efforts by releasing graphic templates indicating the schedule of Palma’s Masses to be livestreamed for the Holy Week
The vicar-general also finds hope that with everyone venerating within the confines of their homes, the importance of domestic church will be emphasized.
“This is a time for us to realize that the family church is a home church. When you mean domestic church, members of the family can actually do spiritual activities inside the houses,” said Labajo. /bmjo
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