Today, Sunday, churches in Metro Manila will have more worshippers than at any other time in the last seven months as the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) approved the Metro Manila Council recommendation to allow up to 30 percent capacity in churches.
It was in March that an Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) was declared for Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon to stop COVID-19 which was beginning to spread around the world. People were told to stay at home, businesses and offices were closed, all traffic was stopped, and all kinds of gatherings were banned, including church services.
Palm Sunday marked the start of Holy Week in April, one of the most revered religious observances in the Philippines, but churches were closed. No Visita Iglesia, no Siete Palabras, no Easter Sunday services. May came and went without the many fiesta celebrations and masses in honor of patron saints all over the country.
In Rome, Pope Francis suspended his public audiences with the thousands of people gathered at St. Peter’s Square and turned to television. It was only on Wednesday, September 2, that the Pope finally got to meet with an audience in the San Damaso courtyard of the Vatican Apostolic Palace. “After so many months, we resume our encounters face to face – not screen to screen, face to face,” he said. “And this is beautiful.”
There is indeed something beautiful in face-to-face meetings among believers. We have not had these face-to-face meetings in our churches in the last seven months. There was an easing of restrictions on gatherings early in September when churches in Metro Manila were allowed to accept worshippers up to 10 percent of their capacity. So many people wanted to go to church but they had to content themselves with gathering in churchyards, wearing face masks, and maintaining social distancing.
Today, finally, churches in Metro Manila will accept worshippers up to 30 percent of capacity. It is still a long way from 100 percent but it is a big step forward for so many people who have long sought the peace and solace of simply being in church.
The restrictions on church and other mass gatherings may last for several weeks more, as the government watches the figures of COVID-19 infections and deaths in the country. We continue to pray for a miracle. We may yet have one by Christmas and then we will see our churches full again.