In Samar, Virtual Worship Keeps Faith Alive Amid the COVID-19 Crisis
Choose Philippines | May 15, 2020
Story By Lance Paolo Lim
There’s no better way to celebrate one’s faith than in the same dwelling place as one’s brothers and sisters of similar spirituality. Sadly, mass and worship, as well as religious gatherings, have been put on halt for the health and safety of everyone.
Religious devotion, just like in other parts of the Philippines, is very much evident in the Province of Samar. The COVID-19 pandemic made it even more apparent as Samareños found ways to keep the faith alive during these trying times. Deep into the enhanced community quarantine, two leaders of Samar — Sharee Ann Tan and Reynolds Michael Tan — stepped up to give Samareños reasons to hold onto their faith by spearheading a project which enabled them to have virtual encounters with God.
As early as 7 in the morning, Catholic devotees gather in front of their screens for an hour of Eucharistic celebration — nourishing their faith while listening to the priest deliver the Word of God. Come 4 in the afternoon, Christians virtually meet — singing and dancing along to worship songs and giving ears to various testimonies from their pastors.
Remotely held at the St. Bartholomew Parish and New Life Center in the capital of Catbalogan City, respectively, both online mass and worship have drawn quite a number of at-home believers over the past couple of weeks. Meantime, members of the Catholic and Christian Churches believe that people shouldn't measure faith by mere physical presence.
Having been used to receiving the physical elements of the Holy Communion such as the bread and wine, devout Catholic faithful Anna Rose Macariola shares why keeping the faith alive, above all else, is the most important component of devotion. “For me, attending virtual mass feels the same as going to church on a Sunday — except for the fact that there is no physical Holy communion during Eucharist,” Macariola said, “What’s more important is that the mass-goer manifests his/her faith while listening to the Word of God. By doing so, he/she can now “virtually” receive the fruit of the Eucharist. The disposition of the person while hearing the mass is the one that matters the most right now because it’s only him/her who can control how he/she takes it.”
On the other hand, Lovelle Lapura, the Administrative Pastor at New Life Center Catbalogan, shared how virtual worship helped them reached more people regardless of the challenges brought about by the pandemic. “God can always turn things around for the good. Due to ECQ, we resorted to using the LIVESTREAM as a platform for our regular congregants to join in worship and listen to the Preaching of the Word of God but we always end up reaching out to a lot more people. So yes we definitely will continue what we've started,” she stated.
Lapura added that the overall response of the members of their Church has been positive so far — blissfully sharing that there is a clear presence of “spiritual unity” amongst them. “We see other church leaders and government leaders hooking with us during Sunday and they themselves either share or host a watch party for others to see. So it's been something being looked forward to every Sunday. We see a demonstration of spiritual unity amidst the crisis,” she said.
The virtual Sunday service contributed to the overall well-being of their members in the time of COVID-19. “Faith comes, grows and is built on the foundation of the Word of God. So constantly hearing of the word of God brings not only inspiration but an assurance and security in Christ," Lapura relates, "God's grace empowers us to behave wisely, His love comforts us constantly and His peace protects our mind and emotions. The virtual worship results in wholeness — spirit, soul, and body.”
Meanwhile, Michael Cristobal, the Supervising Tourism Operations Officer of Samar, shared what made them decide to bring religious activities from the two religious sects online. “Following a national order in the imposition of ECQ, Samar is not exempted from observing the same. In granting our people the venue where they can continue to practice their religious activity, we turned to social media — specifically Facebook,” he said.
While the mass and worship livestream sessions only cater to Catholic and Christian faiths as of this writing, Cristobal said the Provincial Government of Samar is hoping that other religious groups would consider using social media as a platform for their devotions. “We wanted to cater to all religious denominations here in Samar. Unequivocally, the Catholic mass and Christian worship were the most accessible. In the plans are the remaining religious groups who might be willing to use FB as a medium,” he stated.
Indeed, the virtual mass and worship have proven to be a huge source of hope during these tough and challenging times. But more than anything else, these celebratory moments bring forth inspiration even to Samareños living in various places locally and abroad — allowing them to reconnect with their roots while singing songs of praises to the Lord in their mother tongues.