by Rev. Fr. Rommel Molina Arcilla
The lockdown was imposed last March 15, 2020 and it was on a Sunday. We, priests, were advised to cancel even the anticipated masses on March 14. It was all because mass gatherings were prohibited. I was already in a certain barangay chapel when I got the message. So, I told the people who were already gathered in that chapel to just go home because masses in barangay chapels were indefinitely cancelled. An old woman told me: “Ngata man ta kaipuhan na saraduhan ang simbahan saka i-cancel ang mga misa ngunyan? Na mas kaipuhan ta ngani magdasal?” That remark made me change my decision and I proceeded to say mass in that barangay, fully aware that I might end up in jail and at odds again with my superiors.
I did what I had to do not because of anything else or not because I want to prove that I am a better priest than my brother-priests, but it was mainly because I don’t want to embarrass nor frustrate that old woman. She was just a simple believer that God’s grace is more than enough to solve all the problems and worries in her life. Like all other believers, she is one of the reasons why God sent His Son into the world as the redeemer. I felt it was my obligation to satisfy her longing for God’s presence by saying the mass even if there were some violations on my part.
I know I was never an ideal priest and I have made a lot of bad decisions in my life. Some of the effects of those bad decisions are still haunting me like persistent ghosts and all I can do is to be sorry for having done those nasty things in my ministry. I was (and maybe still am) a favorite son, an apple of the eye of my superiors because they would always lecture on me in a seemingly unlimited fashion because of my habitual offenses and sins. However, let me assure you that I never really liked the way I lived my life filled with so much contradictions and violations both of ecclesiastical laws and man-made laws.
On that Saturday, March 14, 2020, I knew I made a good decision to say mass no matter what the consequences will be for me. I knew from that moment on that I am just a servant who is entrusted to serve in God’s House. People going to the church, the House of God, are the same people for whom Jesus shed His blood on the cross. Who am I to tell them to go home because church services are now cancelled because safety precautions suggest that mass gatherings are not allowed?
I may have done things not in conformity with the protocols on this lockdown and this quarantine and ECQ/GCQ issue at hand. But I know in my heart that I did what needed to be done starting from the beginning of this global pandemic. As I have said, I have done numerous bad decisions in my life. Now, is there a reason for me to be afraid by doing the work that God has chosen me to do for His people?
I am just a servant in God’s House and it is my primordial obligation to be a dispenser of the sacraments to those believers who long for them and to those who need them most in their moments of trials, sufferings and even sinfulness. In relation to this calling, I am very sorry for doing things not in conformity with the existing laws and protocols, but as I have said, I just did what, in my prudent judgment, needed to be done for that old woman. She is, to me, an epitome of the people in need of God’s grace and having only God as their source of hope and healing.