In Nueva Ecija, Filipinos Grip on Strong Faith Amidst Pandemic
Choose Philippines | June 25, 2020
Story by Cris Zuniga
Photos courtesy of St. Joseph Husband of Mary Parish and Immaculate Concepcion Parish
NUEVA ECIJA –What could be more powerful than prayers? During desperate and crucial moments of our lives, we often catch ourselves calling for God’s mercy and salvation. Prayer becomes the sanctuary of many facing the hardships and uncertainty brought by the Covid-19 Pandemic. But likewise, it brings the consciousness of appreciating life more than ever.
Lending Statue and Portrait of Saints
In a small town of Rizal in Nueva Ecija, parishioners lend statues of Saints to St. Joseph Husband of Mary Parish. At least 200 different images and sizes of the Virgin Mary, Sto. Nino and Jesus Christ were placed in between benches for physical distancing. Parish Priest Rev. Father RR Ocampo wants to welcome churchgoers with creativity over the anxiety brought by the pandemic. “We are now implementing the new normal. Along the course of implementing the new normal is to be creative and leveling up the spirituality, the ambiance, the atmosphere for those who are going to attend the Mass,” he said.
This was in time for the first mass celebration on Sunday after placing the province under modified general community quarantine where mass gatherings and religious activities are allowed but under some restrictions. A maximum of 200 individuals is allowed inside the church.
One of the parishioners, 56-yr old Buenafe Julian, said they feel safer and stronger with the saints by their side while praying. She was a devotee of the Blessed Virgin Mary who’s known for miraculous deeds. “Naniniwala po kami na sa pamamagitan ng panalangin ay mahihilom ang mundo sa COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. (We believe that through the power of prayer the world will be healed from the COVID-19 pandemic.)
In Llanera town, on the other hand, the Immaculate Concepcion Parish installed Portrait of Saints on the benches to promote respect and disciple inside the church. According to Father Louie Cañiza, this is also one way of triggering curiosity among the parishioners while attending the mass. “Mas maganda na yung mga nasa upuan ay more theological or something like catechetical nang sa gayon ang mga tao ay makilala nila kung sino iyong mga Santo ng Simbahan at the same time pag-uwi nila magkaroon sila ng research and eventually ma-imitate nila iyong spirituality ng saints," he said. (It is more appropriate to see theological or catechetical (figures/persona) on benches so that churchgoers will get curious and eventually research about them and imitate their spirituality.)
The most recent saint, the beloved Pope John Paul II who’s a known advocate of human rights, made history by becoming the first non-Italian pope in more than 400 years. According to Church, he performed his miracles by curing the patients with Parkinson’s disease in 2005 and Aneurism in 2011.
One of the relatively less popular ones but equally admirable is Santa Josephine Bakhita who was a slave at a young age before becoming a member of the Canossian Sisters for 45 years. She is known as the patron saint of victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. Every 8th of February the Catholic Church celebrates the World Day of Prayer in honor of Saint Bakhita
What to do inside the Church
Along with the images and portraits on benches, as a reminder for social distancing, virtual mass and instruction materials of what to do inside the church are also uploaded on the social media page of St. Joseph Husband of Mary Parish. Netizens can hear mass online via live streaming. Videos on minimum public health protocols before entering the church are also uploaded. Wearing masks, sanitizing of hands, and checking of temperature is also mandatory for churchgoers. The video also shows the entry and exit points of the church as well as the markers for the sacrament of communion. Father Ocampo embraces these changes as an opportunity to reflect, commit, and be closer to God. “Masaya dahil bukas na muli ang Simbahan, malungkot dahil may restrictions. Pero the feeling is all comforting,” he said. (I’m happy that the Church is now open, sad because of the restrictions but the feeling is comforting all the same.)