A man portraying Christ carries a cross as he takes part in a Good Friday procession in Manila, Philippines, March 25, 2016. For the second year, parishes in Manila have been forced to cancel Holy Week celebrations after health authorities prohibited religious gatherings due to a spike in COVID-19 infections. (CNS photo/Ezra Acayan, Reuters)

Mar. 22, 2021
Catholic News Service

MANILA, Philippines – Parishes in the Manila metropolitan area have been forced to cancel Holy week celebrations after government health authorities prohibited religious gatherings due to a spike in COVID-19 infections.

Church officials said they would be locked down beginning March 22 and would reopen for Easter, April 4, ucanews.com reported. The Philippines recently recorded the highest COVID-19 infection rates since the pandemic began.

This is the second time Filipino Catholics will spend the Holy Week in their homes due to the coronavirus pandemic, ucanews.com reported.

Novaliches Diocese in Quezon City was the first to announce the cancellation of Masses, in a letter signed by its bishop.

“There is a strong need, even major imperative for our parish churches to go into lockdown. This is for us to help arrest the worsening COVID-19 pandemic,” Bishop Roberto Gaa said in the letter.

Novaliches Diocese said it needed to implement measures to curb the continuous infection among churchgoers.

“I believe that if nothing drastic is done and things are left as they are now, the worsening situation could spread to other places, both within and beyond our diocese,” Bishop Gaa said.

Cubao Diocese in Quezon City issued a similar announcement, canceling public Masses and other liturgical celebrations.

“Closing our places of worship at the highest point of our liturgical year is heartbreaking,” said Cubao Bishop Honesto Ongtioco, “but we must also open our eyes to a situation that puts the faithful at risk.”

“Numbers are surging and scientific data show that unless drastic interventions are done, these numbers will not decline anytime soon,” Bishop Ongtioco added.

Manila Archdiocese and Kalookan Diocese announced they would livestream their Masses, including during Holy Week.

Bishop Jesse Mercado of Parañaque urged his flock to engage in “prayerful lockdown.”

“I am encouraging you to pray to the best of your ability for the resolution of this crisis. Let us always remember that where two or three are gathered in his name, Christ is there in their midst,” Bishop Mercado said.

In a separate action, the Archdiocese of Manila announced the offices of Caritas Manila were placed under lockdown March 20-28 after Father Anton Pascual, executive director, and other staffers tested positive for COVID-19.

It said Father Pascual, who is also president of Radio Veritas, has been admitted to Cardinal Santos Medical Center.

During the pandemic, Father Pascual was active in leading Caritas initiatives to assist those affected by the lockdowns.

The archdiocese said despite the lockdown, which was to allow for disinfection and sanitation of offices, Caritas Manila would continue to help the needy.