Religious Services are essential services
After 5 weeks of quarantine, decision makers are now talking about the lifting of the lock down, either completely, or in a mitigated way, or only in some areas. In this conversation, the topic invariably comes: which are to be considered essential services that can be allowed? People naturally speak about the food industry, the health care services, peace and order services, basic transportation, and the list can go on and on. It is noteworthy however that in many lists, religious services are not included. Is this a sign of secularism that religion is not considered as important at all in the life of the people, that it is optional and can easily be dispensed with?
This is not so in the Philippines! This is not so in our special time! At this time, after more than 5 weeks of being cooped up in our houses, and with the great uncertainly about our future, people need hope. They need the assurance of a benign higher power on whom they can depend in this time of uncertainty. This is given by religion, more so in the Philippines, where the people are very religious. Religion is very important for Filipinos. For the vast majority, it is faith that gives them strength especially in difficulties.
We can see this in times of disasters like fires, floods and typhoons. One of the things that people first save are their religious images and their Bibles. After the disaster, the first thing that the community would restore is their chapel. The first thing that people do in calamities is to pray together. The signs of God in their lives are very important for the people.
This is given great evidence during this time of community lock down. People turn to online masses and church services. They find in them great comfort and strength to carry on. These services give meaning to their struggles and assure them that they are not alone, that all these will pass away. There is a loving God in whom they can depend. All of these keep them spiritually strong and psychologically sane, even.
We cannot therefore say that religious services are peripheral to the people. They see them as essential, and the sign that things are going back to normal is when they are again able to go to church and attend the services. This will uplift their spirits to a great extent.
So when the decision makers consider the essential services to be allowed, they should also consider the opening of the churches and its services as important. Of course, necessary precautions should be taken, like the proper social distancing and the sanitation practices to be done in the churches. We cannot also just go back to the old practices as before. Many things will also change in the way we do our services in the Church. This is already taken as a given. But allowing people to go back to Church to thank the Lord, to ask for his protection and implore his help, are deemed very important by the people. So if we want to reassure the people that we shall overcome, that we are on the way to victory in our fight against the virus, let us allow the people the opportunity to express their faith within our churches.
(Guest editorial by Bishop Broderick Pabillo)