Filipinos mark Ash Wednesday with prayers for pandemic to end

February 17, 2021 - 9:52 PM
Filipino Catholics maintain social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) during mass on Ash Wednesday at Baclaran Church, Paranaque City, Metro Manila, Philippines, February 17, 2021. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

MANILA— Catholics in the Philippines observed Ash Wednesday in unconventional ways for a second successive year, with devotees meters apart and wearing mandatory masks and face shields to mark the start of the Christian season of Lent.

Churchgoers observed social distancing as much as Roman Catholic traditions in Manila, with priests and nuns modifying a few practices to try to maintain a sense of normalcy while the highly contagious coronavirus still rages.

“I attended today to pray for this pandemic to end and for all of us who have suffered,” said Gener Lacerna after attending mass.

Instead of dabbing ash in the sign of a cross directly onto foreheads, nuns sprinkled ash on the tops of people’s heads to minimize physical contact with those entering churches in a country where about 80% of the 108 million population are Catholic.

People queued in orderly lines, each standing on evenly spaced markers, while those attending services sat on pews with big gaps in between them.

Omar Vargas said mass on Ash Wednesday was a tradition that his family always observed.

“I prayed for my family and for the COVID pandemic to be over soon,” he said. —Reporting by Adrian Portugal; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Giles Elgood