Churches in the Philippines are preparing to welcome Christmas under the “new normal” by tweaking traditions to comply with health guidelines during the pandemic.
In the capital Manila, the traditional celebration of “Simbang Gabi” that will start on Dec. 16, are either scheduled earlier in the evening or later than usual in the morning.
Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the Committee on Public Affairs of the bishops’ conference, said the Church is ready and will follow the health protocols issued by authorities.
“We were always ready. It’s part of our life,” said the priest, adding that the Catholic Church has already issued guidelines for the faithful during the Christmas season.
Among those that will be implemented is the limited number of people allowed inside churches during religious services.
The bishops’ conference has instructed parishes to adjust the time of scheduled Masses, depending on the curfew hours imposed in their areas.
Priest were also reminded to shorten their homilies and limit the number of church hymns.
Church officials have earlier reminded the faithful to also refrain from the traditional “caroling” to prevent the spread the coronavirus disease.
Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila has said that parishes have been instructed “not to organize carolings” especially because experts have warned that the virus can easily be transmitted through singing.
The church leader, however, said that pandemic should not dampen the spirit of Christmas.
“Let not COVID-19 lock down our Christmas joy and family togetherness,” the Manila prelate said.
“God has come down to be with us. We accept him together as a family in our homes. Let us be creative this year in celebrating God’s presence among us,” he added.
Bishop Pabillo said the faithful should not allow the pandemic to deprive them of Christmas joy. “God is with us,” he added.
He said the faithful can still celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ “in a different, but more meaningful way.”
“In years past, we have been accustomed to external and consumerist ways of celebrating these seasons,” said the bishop.
“The malls and the stores had dictated our Christmas … Let us bring Advent and Christmas to our families with prayers, family religious services, and joy,” he said.
COVID-19 cases still up
On Dec. 13, the Philippines’ Department of Health announced that the country’s COVID-19 tally moved closer to 450,000.
Health officials have said nationwide the case count at 449,400, of whom 21,980 or 4.9 percent are currently ill patients.
Quezon City in the national capital recorded the highest rise with 103 new infections, followed by Rizal with 46, Makati City with 44, the City of Manila with 43, and Pasig City with 39.
The Department of Health confirmed that 9,269 more patients have recovered, with the number of survivors reaching 418,687.
Total fatalities are also now at 8,733 with three new deaths — the lowest daily rise since July 21.
A research group monitoring the pandemic in the country warned that the reproduction rate of the new coronavirus continues to go up in the Philippine capital.
The OCTA Research group said that as of Dec. 11, the reproduction rate or Ro was at 0.99.
“As of latest data, Ro in [the National Capital Region] is at 0.99. It should be above 1 in 1-2 days, which is now a certainty,” said Professor Guido David of the research group.
“We think (and hope) we will be able to weather the holiday increase in cases,” he added.
The reproduction rate is the average number of people infected by one person in a susceptible population, according to the World Health Organization.
The research group said a value higher than one indicates the pandemic is spreading.
The growing number of people going out of their homes as Christmas nears is one reason eyed by experts for the increase in the coronavirus reproduction rate in Metro Manila.
“It looks like this is the increase due to the holiday mobility,” said Guido, adding that the upward trend “is real but it is not necessarily permanent.”