MANILA— After months of livestreaming Mass and prayer service to millions of faithful from behind closed doors, churches in Metro Manila and areas under general community quarantine (GCQ) are now allowed to accept more worshipers, Malacañang said Friday.
The inter-agency task force leading the country's pandemic response allowed churches to fill 30 percent of their seating capacity, up from the current 10 percent, following a meeting on Thursday, said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.
"Ang ating [places of] religious worship po ay 30 percent na sa GCQ kasama po ang Metro Manila," he said in a Laging Handa public briefing.
(Our areas of religious worship are now allowed to open up to 30 percent of their capacity in GCQ areas, including Metro Manila.)
Mayors in the capital region earlier backed the 30-percent seating capacity for churches and shortened curfew hours to 12 midnight to 3 a.m. starting December 1 to give way to the traditional Simbang Gabi (midnight Mass) during Christmas Season.
"Wala na kasi tayong Undas, sarado ang ating mga sementeryo, tapos marami na rin tayong nakansela, so siguro naman kahit papano magkaroon naman tayo ng pagpapatuloy ng ating mga Christmas traditions bagama't 30 percent lang po ang ating pupuwedeng Simbang Gabi," said Roque.
(We can no longer observe traditions for All Saints' Day because cemeteries will be closed, many of our events have been canceled. With the easing of rules on religious gatherings, perhaps we can continue our Christmas traditions though churches during Simbang Gabi could only open at a 30-percent capacity.)
Those attending religious gatherings should wear anti-virus masks and observe physical distancing. Places of worship should also provide necessities for hand hygiene, the IATF said in Resolution No. 80.
The contagion in the deeply religious country had earlier forced churches to get creative to meet the spiritual needs of their congregations as physical gatherings were banned under strict lockdown measures.
In the usually packed Baclaran Church in capital Manila, temperature guns, hand sanitizers, contact-tracing forms and uniformed security guards greet the faithful wearing masks and plastic face shields.
Physical distancing rules limit 3 people to pews that normally sit 10 and every second bench is left empty in the cavernous church where thousands of worshippers once flocked for mass.
Face coverings must be worn at all times— even when believers take the piece of bread given to them during the Holy Communion by a priest or minister who is not exempt from the protocols.
Holy water fonts -- into which people used to dip their fingers to make the sign of the cross -- are dry and covered with a white cloth.
Religious icons are in storage or behind fences to prevent people from touching and kissing them -- a common practice believed to help cure the sick but that could now help spread COVID-19.
With limited seating, online mass were popular.
Services livestreamed on the Baclaran Church's Facebook page receive as many as 50,000 views -- a 5-fold increase from before the pandemic.
Elsewhere in the country, drive-by communion services have been introduced and some priests are visiting the homes of their congregants to hear confession.
— With reports from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News; Ron Lopez, Agence France-Presse