Rev. Fr. Rommel Molina Arcilla
The present Virus Scare (COVID 19) did it good for most of us. There was the panic buying and people from all walks of life were affected far and wide. There is also the lockdown especially in effect in some key cities around the National Capital Region. Around the world, there is real scare and most people, if not all, are doing their thing to protect themselves from the damages that can even lead to death.
Our first obligation is to protect ourselves, and this is very basic. In doing so, we are also protecting the health and well-being of those who are with us and those whom we love. The government, especially from the health sector are also busy doing their job and I salute them for all their sacrifices. We are now faced with a deadly virus and this is a very serious thing that we really must deal with. But how do we really face things and problems such as this one?
A lot of our usual and daily activities were suspended because of this disease. In my opinion, the authorities maybe right in their decision just to protect our health and well-being. It is just right and proper, but still, not all our usual activities must be suspended. I know we are wanting to find a cure for this virus, and we all want our loved ones and all peoples to be spared from this devilish illness. We can always hope that our experts in the medical field can discover a cure. We are hoping that the proper authorities can make sure that it will not spread to those places which is not affected yet by the disease. I know there are measures that we need to undertake, and I really understand that even if, I must admit, that I am not comfortable doing them myself.
It is a normal thing for a believer, for a Catholic, to seek refuge in the church when the world out there, with all the citizens of this world are in chaos. We all would want to be with the presence of the Divine when our faith is being tested by problems like this. And so, with this, I find it hard to understand why even the liturgical activities, especially now that we are nearing the Holy Week, must also be suspended. Or is it that this suspension is an utter display of our lack of faith?
When I was growing up, I saw people coming to church to pray and to as for forgiveness, to send their petitions to God and to ask for His help and saving grace especially in times of calamities and illnesses. There are always experts in the many facets of human life to whom we can cling to and ask for help and support, but for most, the dialogue with God through prayers is the only way to satisfy their hungry souls and disturbed mind and, of course, their fear of the unknown. It is only through faith in Him that we can truly relax and feel that inner peace in our hearts because we have a loving God who is always there to protect us.
It is a sad note that some churches and dioceses all over the world have cancelled their liturgical services and may have even closed their churches, seemingly for the simple reason of keeping everyone safe from the disease and prevent the spread of this devil’s flu. However, in a recent development, the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Francis who is residing at the epicenter of the deadly virus, reverts an initial drastic measure issued by the Vicar General of the Diocese of Rome and the news says:
After Pope Warns Against ‘Drastic Measures,’ Diocese of Rome Reverses Decree to Close Churches. Always Respecting the Laws, Churches’ Reopening Depends on Conscience of Each Church Pastor.
After Pope Francis warned against ‘drastic measures’ not always being good, the Diocese of Rome has authorized churches being opened.
This move effectively reverses a decision made yesterday, March 12, saying that all Churches across Rome would be closed respecting guidelines put out by Italian authorities.
The March 13 decree, signed by Vicar General of Rome, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, modifying yesterday’s act, leaves the decision to reopen to the ‘conscience’ and ‘responsibility’ of each church pastor.
The move followed the spreading of the Coronavirus which has claimed the lives of more than 1000 people across Italy, and has put the country on lockdown.
During the Pope’s private but televised Mass at his residence this morning, the Pope reflected on the crisis.
While stressing today he wished to pray for pastors who need to accompany the people of God during this crisis, he added: “May the Lord grant them the strength and the ability to choose the best ways to help.”
“Drastic measures,” he underscored, “are not always good.”
Therefore, he prayed the Holy Spirit grant “pastoral discernment” to pastors so that “they might perceive measures that might not leave the holy, faithful people of God alone, and so that people of God might feel accompanied by their pastors.”
Can’t we not follow just what the Pope has done in his diocese? Rome and the Vatican are in a much delicate place than our happy island. Let us not make this place a lonely place because I know by heart that a lot of people, even now, are longing to attend the usual mass at least every Sunday.
My mind tells me to say masses as scheduled, no matter what, because it is what I am supposed to do as a priest. I’ve been there, in those scary part, when I was assigned in Batangas, when I had to hear the confession and administer the Anointing of the Holy Oil to a dying man with a lung cancer. I heard his confession without the face mask (against the doctor’s advice) because I didn’t want him to feel that I am not comfortable in what I was doing for him. I caught the disease and had to put myself under medication for 6 months. However, I heard him say; “thank you for hearing my confession at di kayo nandiri sa akin”. Those words were just enough for me to continue what I do and believe that God will always protect me, and He did! I am still alive after all the storms that rocked my very life.
How will I answer the people who may come to me asking: “Where were you when we needed your prayers and when we needed a pastor to give us courage and strength during those troubled times in our life? Why did you close the church for us when we needed the security inside the House of God? You ought to act in persona Christi but why were you so scared to get inflicted when Jesus did not fear in curing the leprosy of the ten lepers which was incurable during His time?” If you can teach me how to answer these questions without endangering the faith of these people, then, I may abide by the protocol that some church leaders had made and ordered us to follow.
Again, I will say, I’ve been there… I did some nasty things in my life as a priest and did not fear the ire of my superiors. Now, I know I am doing what is good and fulfilling my obligations as a priest, do I need to be afraid while doing all these things for God and for the people who are under my pastoral care? And so, it is, to be or not to be… meaning to be a priest of Christ or to be just anybody else who seem to be overreacting to this virus scare. Let us bear in mind that our fear is always commensurate to our lack of faith. Stronger faith is doing what you have to do even if it means going against the tsunami of ignorance and passivity. Stronger faith is not minding if there is a big chance of catching as well that dreaded disease because my faith tells me that I won’t be inflicted because God loves me as He loves all of us, His children.
Honestly, I am against the cancellation of the masses and some liturgical activities especially during these trying times. As Filipinos, it is part not only of our Catholic faith, but also part of our culture to seek refuge in the church and pray to God for healing and for His grace. I believe that this Covid-19 is a project of Satan and he is laughing out loud in his fiery kingdom because he is quite succeeding in conquering us. We are closing our churches which are the most conducive places to have an encounter with God. We are somehow making those faithful lose their faith because we are proving to them that we are not worthy of their trust after all. It’s like telling them that now you are on your own because you are sick, and I don’t want to get infected with you deadly illness.
By the way, the last page of the Canon Law of the Church talks about “Salus Animarum” or the salvation of souls. This means we can forget and go against the prescriptions of the law if the salvation of souls is at stake. Now, I know very clearly where I stand and will be committed to dispense the sacraments which only priests can administer even if it may put me behind bars. Thanks so much my friend and former student, Mr. Dennis Pereyra for reminding me that that law of the Church is actually on my side.
I pray with you, people of God, that this virus scare may be over soon with the protection and intercession of St. Michael, San Padre Pio and of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Please stay in good health.