Drive-thru communion: Pampanga priests find ways to reach flock
CITY OF SAN FERNANDO, Pampanga, Philippines —When quarantine rules were eased on May 16, Fr. Mario Sol Gabriel began giving the communion wafers at a “drive-through” service.
He handed out the host to devotees who participated in the online Mass from their vehicles parked outside The Lord’s Transfiguration Parish church in Angeles City.
He also introduced “drive-through confessions,” though he later had to discontinue them due to concerns about transmitting the coronavirus.
Gabriel had been asked to anoint the dead in funeral parlors and to continue baptisms and hear confessions. He undertook these tasks while wearing personal protective equipment—face masks, shields and gloves.
Fr. Ching Fuertez had been playing his guitar and singing inspirational songs, including his own composition about COVID-19, at churches and in solo concerts posted online since April.
Fr. Raul de los Santos overcame his fear of COVID-19 and ventured out to anoint the sick and the dead, and to comfort the depressed.
Fr. Emil Dizon blessed the ashes of Dr. Mar Jaochico, the first doctor to die from COVID-19 in Pampanga in March.
These priests are among the Filipino clergy who have improvised ways of performing the sacraments for parishioners who suffer lingering fears about the virus.
Like many men of the cloth, they are required to follow archdiocesan guidelines, such as livestreaming Masses to abide by social distancing rules.
Gabriel said the role of priests has “shifted during this pandemic.”
“[Our] presence must all the more be felt by people. With all the negativity one encounters today, priests should stand out and all the more bring Jesus Christ to people,” he said.
Gabriel said he found grace in the pandemic. His virtual parish gathers an average of 500 people daily or four times the number of churchgoers before the pandemic, “and I need to sustain it,” he said.
Songs of praise ring out of the Jesus the Eternal Word Parish church in Angeles City and among Aeta communities of Porac town, thanks to Fuertez who performs his COVID-19 composition.
His song highlights the altruism that emerged during the pandemic, and people’s newfound reliance on prayers and reflections as well as the efforts of the parish to feed poor families for months.
Also an engineer, Fuertez found time to search for spring water at Barangay Villa Maria in Porac. He and the Aetas built a well and a children’s pool, which he blessed on July 28.
Observing physical distancing and wearing a face mask, Fuertez solemnized weddings as far away as Sapang Uwak in Porac and led prayers in chapels.
In July, 10 priests in Angeles City resumed live Masses after some parishioners expressed “quiet protests.” De los Santos said church activities had lifted the spirits of Betis residents in Guagua town who were saddened by the closure of churches.
The new approach for the ministry, he said, was a return to a more personal relationship between priests and devotees.
“We are going back to what used to be normal—when we had only two godfathers in baptisms and weddings, when we had only 24 hours for the wake of our dear departed, when relations with God and with one another were deeper and direct,” De los Santos said.
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