Churches in Philippines struggle to help those battered by pandemic

Rising mental stress amid the Philippines’ almost two-month lockdown has sent Catholic clergy brainstorming how “to be as close as possible to the flock at a time of hunger, death, and loneliness.”

May 24, 2020

By Inday Espina-Varona
Rising mental stress amid the Philippines’ almost two-month lockdown has sent Catholic clergy brainstorming how “to be as close as possible to the flock at a time of hunger, death, and loneliness.”

“Online ministry is not enough,” said Bishop Broderick Pabillo, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila .

Amid rising distress calls to mental health hotlines, the country’s Catholic bishops have crafted protocols aimed at convincing the government to relax rules on the holding of religious activities.

“We will try our best to control those who come (for the religious activities),” said Bishop Pabillo. “We are coming with our protocols to avoid contamination,” he said.

But priests and church workers who scour Manila’s slums and the hidden nooks that hide the homeless to bring food and other basic needs say that expressions of solidarity are as important as religious rites.

The government plans to ease quarantine rules by May 16, exactly two months since the start of what President Rodrigo Duterte calls “a lockdown.” This would mean limited resumption of work and business activities in some provinces.

However, the interagency task force handling the government’s response to the pandemic took back an early announcement on allowing religious services — lumped under “mass gatherings” — for fear of sparking a new round of coronavirus cases.

Officials credit the “enhance community quarantine” for managing the spread of the disease in the country.

But the loss of jobs and livelihood for at least 18 million Filipinos has triggered a fight or flight response among poor families now baking inside hovels, many without water and with little ventilation as the heat index hits above 42 degrees.

"While only a few — considering that we are more than 100 million — have been affected by the disease, all families have been economically hit by the lockdown,” noted Bishop Pabillo.

“For the poor who depend on daily earnings to survive, this is a very big challenge,” he said.

“People do not only need physical health,” said the bishop. “Their mental and psychological health need to be promoted, and religious activities help a lot,” he added.

Father Danny Pilario, a Vincentian missionary who ministers to a sprawling slum in the outskirts of Manila, has a slightly different perspective on the flock’s need for formal faith structures.

“In the context (of the pandemic), their homes have become their church, the parents have become spiritual leaders of their families,” he said in an interview with LiCAS.news.

“If we think about it, not everyone goes to church regularly, even without [the new coronavirus disease]. Maybe once or twice in a year for many people,” he said.

“And they keep on with their faith with or without the priest. So, they will survive,” added the priest.

Father Pilario, however, said church workers need to go near to the desperate, scared, lonely and grief-stricken flock.

“Maybe, physical nearness is needed so that people will know that the Church is there in these most difficult times of their lives,” added the priest.--Licas. news

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