Undas in this season of the pandemic

Published September 11, 2020, 10:53 PM

by Manila Bulletin

Manila  Mayor  Francisco “Isko Moreno”  Domagoso  has ordered  that the city’s cemeteries  be closed from October 21 to November 3. This is traditionally the period when Filipinos troop to cemeteries all over the land to  light  candles and pray  at the graves of their  loved ones – the Undas.

November 1 is All Saints Day in the Church’s calendar, while November 2 is All Souls Day.  In  the  United States,  it is October 31 – Halloween —  which is more generally  celebrated, with children in ghost costumes going  around  the neighborhood to collect  candies and other gifts.  In the Phiippines,  after 350 years of  the Spanish colonial period,  it  is Undas  which is widely  observed all  over  the country.

All  Saints  Day  —  the Feast of All Saints – is observed  on  November 1  by  the Catholic church and other Christian churches.  It is also a public holiday in many countries, including the Philippines.  The next  day,  All Souls Day, November 2,  Christians remember their  loved ones who have passed away.

The Filipino observance  of  Undas  covers both holidays.  As  early  as October 31,  most  Filipinos go to  cemeteries  to  visit the graves  of  loved ones, some spending the night. They light up candles, offer flowers,  and say  prayers for the souls of the departed.  Undas is one of two times in the year  when huge numbers of  Filipinos living in the cities go back to their home provinces;  the other   is at Christmas time.

This  year, however, Undas  comes at  a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is surging around  the country and  around the world and the government  has banned  mass  gatherings  of all kinds. That includes the huge crowds that  normally go to cemeteries  at this time.

Mayor  Domagoso   issued  Executive  Order No. 38, ordering the temporary closure  of all city cemeteries  for  four days – October 31 to November 3.  Millions of people  normally  visit  the  105,837 graves at  the North Cemetery  and  the  39,228 graves  at the South Cemetery  during Undas – but this would  be in violation of the ban on mass gatherings in this time of the pandemic.  The mayor appealed for  the public’s understanding, saying is order  is for the safety of the city’s residents.

Those who  want  to carry on the   tradition of  Undas  should be able to visit  the cemeteries anytime during the whole month of October before  October 31. They can also visit the loved ones’ graves  in the weeks after November 3. The mayor’s  ban  was  simply aimed at the avoiding the gathering of millions of people at the same time.

There will be one other occasion this year when masses  of Filipinos  normally come together – the nine dawn masses  of  Simbang  Gabi starting December  16. There is a big chance, according  to a University  of the Philippines team monitoring  COVID-19  infections in the country  that  we may be back to  close-to-normal  living before the end of the year, with the steady drop   in the number  of cases.

That is three  months  from  today. In the meantime, we must carry on  under  the  restrictions, including the Mayor  Domagoso’s   four-day  closure of  the city’s cemeteries  in   this year’s  Undas.