Catholic faithful were seated elbow-to-elbow at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral last Palm Sunday (April 10, 2022) as the Diocese of Virac began the solemn celebration of the Holy Week.
Parishioners apparently ignored the four-person-per-pew policy being implemented inside the cathedral as part of the Minimum Health Protocols against the coronavirus pandemic.
All the long benches were filled with people while many more stood at the side corridors as well as at the front entrance of the Virac parish church, majority of them carrying palm fronds.
After the mass presided over by Rev. Fr. Randy de Quiroz, at least three hundred people headed to nearby San Roque chapel to await the blessing of the “palaspas” and the start of the procession for the solemn entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem.
With processions limited to mobile ones for two years now, the procession around the población was the first during the pandemic to feature the 12 disciples and about 200 people walking ahead of the image of Jesus on a donkey.
The Holy Wednesday and Good Friday processions will be mobile, however, according to the Diocese of Virac.
In an interview with the Tribune last April 8, Rev. Fr. Joseph Clarian Clarianes said that the decision was made a few months ahead when they asked the owners of the “pasos” or images of important saints and scenes from the Passion of Christ.
The owners preferred the old tradition of people walking with the pasos but due to the higher pandemic alert level, they were asked if they were willing to deploy 50 marshals to ensure order physical distancing.
None of them expressed agreement, with the owners and the Diocese representatives resorting to mobile procession as the best option at the time, especially if the rising cases led to a higher alert level.
It is claimed that some of the owners said they would be able to participate in two processions due to the considerable cost of joining the mobile procession but the Church pleaded with them to at least be present during the Good Friday procession.
A recent inventory by the Diocese stated that there are 37 pasos in Virac alone, including a few new ones, according to Rev. Fr. Nestor Perpetuo Pastor, who is in charge of the Holy Week processions.
Some of the owners have purchased new, life-sized images to replace the old, smaller-sized ones but the cathedral has asked them to continue using the old ones.
On the other hand, Fr. Clarianes said the Holy Wednesday procession would be the longest as it would take the convoy of images on cars about three hours maximum to negotiate the route at 10-15 kph.
The owners or caretakers of the pasos have been allotted three cars in the mobile procession, meaning there could be at least 111 four-wheeled vehicles in the convoy.
Assuming an average length per car of 4.5 meters plus a separation of 4.5 meters, the entire convoy could stretch for a kilometer.
Barangay captains of the barangays included in the route have been asked to clear their roads of parked vehicles and other obstructions.
For the Easter Sunday symbolic “encuentro” or meeting of the Risen Christ and the Sorrowful Mother, there will be no actual “pagtunton.” Instead, the child playing the role of the angel would be raised on an elevated platform to lift the veil.
Masses at the cathedral as well as other churches and district chapels will observe minimum health protocols of the wearing of masks and physical distancing.
However, judging by crowd that filled all the pews at the cathedral during the Palm Sunday mass, observers say it would be difficult for church ushers to enforce the four-to-a-seat policy.
They added that with zero or very few COVID-19 cases detected in recent weeks, the Catholic faithful deprived of full participation in religious activities would be willing to risk their health to observe the Lenten season with fervor this time.