A parish innovation: Viral photo of Pampanga holy water dispenser

May 29, 2018 - 1:39 PM
Stock photo of a regular holy water font in a church. (Pixabay)

People were amazed when a tweet went viral that featured a holy water dispenser reportedly found at Our Lady of Remedies Church, Pampanga.

It was a more hygienic alternative to open holy water fonts that are scientifically proven to be contaminated.

The picture of the dispenser was shared by Twitter user Helgi Bjarnason, who jokingly captioned “Gaano ka-sosyal ang church mo?”

In the comments thread of the tweet, Helgi wrote that it automatically dispenses water to the churchgoer’s palm.

Precursors of holy water dispensers

In 2009, an Italian designer named Luciano Marabese created a holy water dispenser at the height of the swine flu outbreak.

The swine flu outbreak consisted of an H1N1 influenza virus that came from birds, swine, human flu and a Eurasian pig flu virus.

Marabese said he created an electronic holy water dispenser to dissipate people’s fear of contracting the swine flu during that time.

In this Nov. 10, 2009 file photo, inventor Luciano Marabese displays a prototype of his holy water dispenser at his office in Capriano Briosco, around 40 km (25 miles) north of Milan November 10, 2009. (Reuters/Stefano Rellandini)

The dispenser was used by churchgoers in Fornaci di Briosco, Italy. Father Pierangelo Motta, a priest based in the town, praised Marabese’s project.

“It has been a bit of a novelty. People initially were a bit shocked by this technological innovation but then they welcomed it with great enthusiasm and joy. The members of this parish have got used to it,” Di Briosco said.

Churchgoer Marta Caimm added that it was the “right thing for the times.”

Marabese explained that his invention is to facilitate the faithful’s devotions. “Some people even pretended to touch the water but they just touched the marble edge of the font. I think that it is a pity to lose our traditions,” he said, adding it was a result of the swine flu outbreak.

A year after, firefighter John Hartel also created an automatic holy water dispenser for the Sacred Heart Church in Bayside, New York.

“I was talking to another firefighter who said he doesn’t shake hands at church or touch the holy water because he was worried about germs. I thought he was crazy, but I also thought it was a good idea,” Hartel explained.

Holy water is usually placed in marble or glass containers. It is not clear, however, whether the new inventions have gained the Vatican’s imprimatur or are consistent with liturgical tradition.

Science says most holy water fonts are contaminated 

In 2013, scientists at the Institute of Hygiene and Applied Immunology at the Medical University of Vienna found out that there were 62 million bacteria present in numerous holy water fonts in Vienna and Austria.

“Common bacteria found in fecal matter such as E. coli, enterococci and Campylobacter, which can lead to diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever” were also found in 86 percent of the sample, ABC News reports.

Nitrates, a chemical that is usually present in farm fertilizers, were also found in the waters tested. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it could cause death if left untreated in cases of exposure.

Mayo Clinic notes that if such bacteria gain access to an individual’s bloodstream, a series of health complications may occur like diarrhea, vomiting, fever, cramping and abdominal pain.

The study also revealed that “the busier the church, the higher the bacterial count” in holy water fonts:

“We conclude that it is highly necessary to include holy springs in programs for assessment and management of water quality. Public awareness has to be raised to perceive holy springs as potential sources of illness.”

“Holy water can be another source of infection, especially in hospital chapels and frequently visited churches.”