Church bells across the Philippines simultaneously tolled at three o’clock in the afternoon on April 8, Holy Wednesday, to signal the start of a nationwide broadcast of an interfaith prayer service.
The country’s Catholic bishops’ conference endorsed the ringing of church bells as a response to the call of the government for an interfaith prayer service against the coronavirus pandemic.
The church leaders said it is “comforting and encouraging for our people when they sense and observe that a spirit of unity and working together is there in these trying times.”
The government’s Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases initiated the prayer campaign for unity against the disease.
The initiative was led by the chaplain services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“The [military] chaplains will assist to invoke the mighty help of God as we plead Him to heal those affected by COVID-19 and to spare us from this present pandemic,” said Bishop Oscar Florencio of the Military Ordinariate in an earlier statement.
The nation’s health department reported 106 new COVID-19 cases on April 8, bringing the total to 3,870 with recoveries nearing 100, with 12 new ones being reported, while the death toll stood at 182
In a televised address to the nation on April 6, President Rodrigo Duterte asked Filipinos to pray together as the country struggles with the new coronavirus disease.
“This being the Holy Week, I am calling on the nation to come together this Holy Wednesday afternoon and pay tribute to the indomitable spirit of the Filipino and unite in one prayer to God to fight our common enemy,” said the president.
Duterte, who claimed not to adhere to any organized religion, said God is “the only one who can really solve the problem for us.”
Last month, the president issued Proclamation No. 934 declaring the fourth week of March as a National Week of Prayer and urged Filipinos to pray for the recovery of people afflicted with COVID-19.
Protection for front-liners
In the Diocese of Balanga, north of the capital, Bishop Ruperto Santos prayed for the protection of the “men and women in uniform” who are fighting against the disease.
“Nurture their health and strengthen their weary bodies,” he said in his prayer. “Protect them both at work and off work and be with them when they are in need of consoling moments,” he added.
Bishop Noel Pantoja of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches asked God to guide the Filipino people and government leaders.
“Lord, guide our president and his officials, the Inter-Agency Task Force, in implementing their goal of stopping the spread of COVID-19,” he said.
“We ask that your wisdom guide us so that vaccines and medicines for this disease be discovered at the soonest time,” added Bishop Pantoja.
He also prayed for the recovery of those afflicted with the disease that they may be “touched by your all powerful hands and lead them to recovery and safety.”
The National Council of Churches in the Philippines prayed for the poor and the neglected in the country “that their cries for food, may inspire works of compassion and mercy among those to whom much has been given.”
“For the government leaders to be generous and have compassionate hearts for the poor and needy,” it added.
Online church visit
The media arm of the Catholic bishops’ conference, meanwhile, announced that people can still do the traditional “Visita Iglesia,” literally “church visit,” on Good Friday through the internet.
For nine years now, the “Visita Iglesia Online” has been helping Filipinos working overseas keep their faith alive, especially during the Holy Week.
“Today, when everybody is in quarantine and all liturgy in physical churches are closed to people, ‘Visita Iglesia’ continues to be a portal for online retreats, catechesis, and liturgical celebrations,” said Monsignor Pedro Quitorio, director of the media office of the bishops’ conference.
The priest said the online portal allows the faithful to pray the Stations of the Cross, virtually visit churches, and attend liturgical celebrations that are streamed live online.
The website was originally built in 2011 for Filipinos living in non-Catholic countries and those who are sick or homebound and not as substitute to the liturgical activities done on parishes.
Monsignor Quitorio said that since it came online, the “Visita Iglesia” has been serving Filipinos in foreign countries where going to a physical church or parish was difficult or impossible.
“It also helped Filipino seafarers, the sick and those who, for one reason or another, could not make it to churches during Lent, Holy Week, and Easter,” said the priest.
This year, the bishops’ conference has also created an online platform that will accept prayer requests from the faithful.
“We are encouraged to make good use of the digital technology for our pastoral concerns and liturgical celebrations,” said Monsignor Quitorio.
Earlier, the priest’s office has also released a Spotify podcast on the “Way of the Cross” and the “Holy Rosary.”
Spotify users can play the audio prayers in both English and Filipino versions for free. The podcast is part of the online “Visita Iglesia.”