Authorities on Tuesday banned public Masses in Quiapo Church and other activities for the feast of the Black Nazarene amid the spike of coronavirus cases in the country.
The government’s COVID-19 task force ordered the closure of the minor basilica from January 7 until January 9, the feast day of the Nazarene.
The national task force also discouraged devotees from gathering in the premises of the church on the said dates and attend livestreamed Masses instead.
It ordered the police to deploy cops and establish checkpoints to prevent people from coming to the basilica.
The government has earlier reverted the nation’s capital region under the stricter Alert Level 3 from January 3 to January 15 to try to arrest the “upward trend” of COVID cases.
In a taped address aired late Tuesday, President Rodrigo Duterte also discouraged mass gatherings including public Masses and the traditional procession of the revered image of the Black Nazarene.
“There are millions of devotees there and you cannot just be complacent about the transmission of the disease. I hope the Church can understand that all gatherings are not allowed,” he said.
The basilica is currently closed to the public since Monday for massive disinfection. It was supposed to open its doors to the devotees on January 7.
Fr. Douglas Badong, the church’s parochial vicar, admitted they are saddened by the decision but they will have to comply with the restrictions.
“Of course, we are saddened, especially for the devotees, because we know how important it is to them, to all of us, since we only cling our faith to the Black Nazarene,” Fr. Badong said.
“We want to respect their (NTF) decision. At the same time, we also understand how the devotees feel about this,” he added.
According to him, the parish has done everything necessary to prepare for the annual religious event.
As early as November 2021, the parish already announced the suspension of the “Traslacion” 2022 for the second straight year.
To decongest Quiapo on the feast day, it again decided to “localize” the celebration by bringing replica images of the Black Nazarene to different areas.
“We have done everything to convince them that the plans and preparations are already set. But, to them, it really won’t help to allow people to come to Quiapo,” Fr. Badong said.
“What we did in 2021, we opted to improve our strategies for 2022 given the alert level status. But, again, to them, the best solution is having no physical activities,” he added.
With the decision, the priest said they are now leaving the fate of this year’s feast to the government.
“We will leave it to them. It’s in their hands now. We can only hope that they have a clear plan on how to handle our devotees,” he also said.
On the other hand, Fr. Badong has appealed to devotees for understanding the changes.
“Let us try to widen our understanding. Let us discern and pray on the message of the Black Nazarene in this situation,” he said.