It was about this time last year that the COVID-19 was beginning began to spread in many countries after the first case was reported on November 17, 2019, in Wuhan, China. Cases were reported in Japan, South Korea, and the United States after 21 days; in Singapore and France after 23 and 24 days; in India, Italy, United Kingdom, Spain, and Belgium after 29 days.
The first cases in the Philippines were a visiting Chinese couple admitted to the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila in January, 2020. She was found to have the SARS-COV-2 RNA on January 30, the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the Philippines but the symptoms resolved and she was discharged from the hospital. The man was originally treated for pneumonia but his condition deteriorated and he suffered a heart attack on February 1. He was confirmed to be the first COVID-19 death outside of China.
As cases of the new viral disease began to pile up In the Philippines and around the world, the Philippine government declared the first lockdown – an Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon, with the rest of the country placed under a state of calamity.
It was the Lenten season and when Holy Week came in April last year, the people were unable to observe the traditional “palaspas” tradition on Palm Sunday, nor the Visita Iglesia on Holy Thursday, as churches were totally closed down.
This year’s Holy Week on March 28 to April 4, the lockdown continues in Metro Manila, but the old harsh restrictions have been eased – churches are now allowed to accept up to 50 percent of their capacity.
It has been a difficult year for the people and the country’s many institutions, with so many celebrations cancelled lest they spread the virus. Because of the pandemic, holidays became less associated with celebration, with greater emphasis on their deeper meaning.
Thus for this year’s Lenten observance, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) President and Davao Archbishop Romulo G. Valles has called on the faithful to do deeds of mercy and compassion, to do works of charity and solidarity with those who are most suffering among us in this difficult days of the pandemic.
In his Ash Wednesday message, Pope Francis called on the faithful to “experience Lent with love,” which means, he said, “caring for those who suffer or feel abandoned and fearful because of the COVID-19 pandemic…. In our charity, may we speak words of reassurance and help others to realize that God loves them as sons and daughters.”
In this season of Lent in 2021, the pandemic remains a threat and the lockdowns remain, although less restrictive than in 2020. Let us take heed of the words of Pope Francis and our own religious leaders as we go through our second Lenten period under the pandemic and find ways to help those who are now suffering, with words and acts of caring and assistance.