SPOTLIGHT: Filipino priest brings Eucharist to faithful on a pick-up truck

After the rain stopped, people placed tables, which they transformed into altars complete with religious images and candles, outside their homes.

Volunteers have set up audio speakers all over the village, ensuring that everyone would be able to hear the priest.

It was past six o’clock in the evening when the pick-up truck arrived and parked in the middle of the street fronting the houses.

On the cargo bed of the truck was a table, also transformed into an altar, covered with a white piece of cloth.

It was already dark when the celebration of Mass started.

Lay ministers were seated a few meters from the mobile altar to give the people standing outside their homes a clear view of the priest.

Many of the people were seated in front of their doorsteps, others were on the balcony or behind the windows of their homes.

Everyone participated in the celebration. They knelt when it was time to kneel, they responded and recited the prayers and sang the hymns.

Offertory collectors went around with their baskets and lay ministers, who were wearing face shields, distributed communion from one house to another.

Father Ronald Roberto, parish priest of the Holy Family Church in Quezon City’s Roxas District in the Diocese of Cubao, called it a “mobile Mass.”

Unlike the celebration of Mass on the streets before the pandemic, people did not gather in one place.

“We are there in their village for the celebration, but they have to stay inside or just in front of their houses,” said Father Roberto.

“They might not see me, but they will hear me and they know I am there,” he told in an interview.

The priest held the first mobile Mass — “Because the altar is literally on a truck and it goes from one place to another” — on May 26.

The idea came up after the government implemented a lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic and prohibited the public celebration of religious activities.

Work and classes were suspended, and the public transportation system was shut down. Mass gatherings were also prohibited.

Parishes were obliged to learn how to livestream Mass celebrations via their social media accounts, but for some priests, said Father Roberto, “we know it is not enough.”

“Part of our duty as a priest is to bring the Eucharist to the people. And if the people cannot go to the church, we need to bring the church to them,” he said.

The priest said he could have held a street Mass instead, but “the challenge is how to ensure that proper physical distancing is observed.”

“That’s why we need loudspeakers. Not just one or two but five speakers. And in order not to attract people from approaching the altar, I decided to put it on a vehicle,” he said.

When the priest announced the plan, a parishioner lent his pick-up truck to the parish.

The mobile Mass is also broadcast online for people in other villages to participate.

Father Roberto said he was not expecting that people would participate because it was “something new.”

He was surprised when he saw a lot of families eager to hear Mass.

“They improvised altars in front of their houses. The entire family is there — fathers, mothers, the children, and the elderly. They prepare as if they are really going to church,” said the priest.

“We almost ran out of consecrated hosts for the communion. It was a clear manifestation of the people’s hunger for Jesus,” the priest said.

After Mass that evening, people whose houses were near the truck came to the priest to ask him to bless their religious images.

Father Roberto noted that the pandemic failed to take away the Filipino people’s faith and religiosity.

“The more threats that come, the greater our faith becomes,” said the priest.

He said the expression of their faith might be unorthodox but “faith in a loving God manifests in the lives of Filipinos.”

Father Roberto said he plans to continue the celebrations of “mobile and online Masses” even after the lifting of strict quarantine protocols in the coming weeks.

“I think this will be part of what many call as the ‘new normal,’” he said.

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