Pandemic tests Church resolve in facing challenges

Catholic priests in the Our Lady of Grace Parish in Caloocan go around villages to offer blessings to the faithful and to bring food packs to the homeless and those living in temporary shelters during the pandemic. (Photo by Vincent Go)

Ernesto M. Hilario, LiCAS.news

THE bad news is that the COVID-19 pandemic shows no sign of easing up.

As of June 21, worldwide, cases had risen to 8.7 million, with 460,000 deaths. In the Philippines, cases have exceeded 29,000, with 1,100 deaths.

Amid the coronavirus rampage, Church leaders in the Philippines have called on the faithful to pray for the safety of priests who continue to do their work amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“We pray for priests. May they be safe from the coronavirus as they serve the people,” said Bishop Broderick Pabillo, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila, in a recent homily at the celebration of the Chrism Mass at the Manila Cathedral.

For his part, Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos echoed the call on the faithful for prayers so that priests “may be always filled with wisdom and joy in serving the Lord … especially the unreached and underserved among us.”

Earlier, as COVID-19 cases continued to rise in the first week of June, Pope Francis said that while the worst of the pandemic is over in Italy, one of the worst-hit countries with 34,000 deaths, he cautioned against premature claims of “victory” as “the virus continues to claim many victims” in many countries.

“Terrible … I wish to express my closeness to those populations, to the sick and their families, and to all those who care for them … With our prayer, let us be close to them,” he remarked.

“Thanks to God we are coming out of it stronger, but always with the prescriptions given to us by the authorities,” he told the faithful gathered at St. Peter’s Square for the first time since the health emergency began.

The pontiff’s warning is timely, particularly for the Church in the Philippines, as priests and staff continue their work amid the lockdown imposed by the government to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

As a case in point, in late May, priests and personnel of the Basilica del Santo Niño de Cebu were placed under quarantine after suspected cases of coronavirus were detected inside the convent.

Swab tests were later conducted by the Cebu City health department on all the priests and staff staying at the convent.

Father Andres Rivera Jr., the prior provincial of the Augustinian Province of Cebu, said the suspected COVID-19 cases were detected on May 25. As a result, the basilica has remained closed until further notice but the faithful can take part in online Mass through their Facebook page.

The church official said they are in constant coordination with city health office as well as with village officials.

“With their help and guidance, we assure the public that everything is properly managed and there is no cause for further alarm and distress,” he said.

But while the Church in the Philippines, the private sector, humanitarian groups and generous individuals have been working hard to keep COVID-19 at bay within its own ranks, there’s more sad news.

In the Philippines, the first priest to die from COVID-19 was recorded in the Davao region. Father Arnel Celis of the Diocese of Tagum City died on April 27, the first COVID-19 death in Tagum City.

A Filipino missionary based in Spain also died from the disease on May 1. Augustinian priest Gilbert Luis Centina III, an award-winning author and poet, died in León city in northwest Spain. He was 72.

The first Filipino parish priest in New York’s Long Island has also died after weeks of battling the coronavirus disease.

Monsignor Romualdo “Boy” Sosing, a native of Northern Samar, was 67. He was in his second term as pastor of the Holy Name of Mary Parish in Valley Stream when he contracted the virus early May.

Ordained priest in the Diocese of Catarman in 1977, Monsignor Sosing had served the Diocese of Rockville Center since 2004.

Despite the fatalities among Filipino priests here and abroad from COVID-19, their colleagues persevere in their work and offer hope that the Philippine Church is in good hands.

Take the case of Father Joel Silagpo of the San Antonio de Padua parish in the village of Santa Clara in the southern Philippine island of Basilan, whose story was earlier narrated by LiCAS.news.

Father Silagpo sells fish to raise funds to help poor parishioners badly affected by the pandemic. He has also started planting vegetables in vacant lots in the parish to augment the diet of residents, most of whom are Muslim farmers and fishermen.

And yes, Basilan island is where the dreaded terrorist group Abu Sayyaf also operates.

The priest says he enjoys what he is doing, including his friendship with Muslims.

Amid much sadness, grief and uncertainty arising from COVID-19, there’s also fervent hope that with the likes of Father Silagpo and many others in the frontlines helping the poor and the needy, the Church can emerge even stronger in the years ahead.

Ernesto M. Hilario writes on political and social justice issues for various publications in the Philippines. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of LiCAS.news.