Catholic churches in Metro Manila suspend masses

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 13)— The Archdiocese of Manila and Dioceses of Cubao and Pasig have suspended masses beginning March 14, amid the growing concerns about the coronavirus disease.

In a pastoral letter, Bishop Broderick Pabillo said there will be no public celebrations of the Holy Mass— as well as other public religious activities— for at least seven days. The move comes after health authorities raised the highest COVID-19 alert level in the Philippines.

"We are enjoined to avoid large gatherings of people to avert the further spread of the virus. We heed this call not with panic but with care for charity to others and the common good," Pabillo wrote.

The Manila archdiocese is comprised of churches in the cities of Manila, Makati, San Juan, Mandaluyong, and Pasay (except Villamor Air Base and Newport City).

The clergy, however, said the ringing of church bells at noon and 8 p.m. will push through daily. Pabillo likewise urged the public to participate in the prayers to stop the further spread of the infectious disease.

The diocese of Cubao followed suit, cancelling all masses "until further notice," said Bishop Honesto Ongitoco. Churches will remain open for private prayers and private masses will be streamed live on the diocese's Facebook page, he added.

Churches in the Cubao diocese will also continue ringing their bells every 6 a.m., 12 n.n., and 6 a.m.

The Pasig diocese also announced suspension of masses in all its parishes and chapels until further notice.

According to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines it is up to the local dioceses to postpone events and gatherings.

"Ibinibigay ngayon ng CBCP ang discretion sa kanya-kanyang obispo sa bawat diocese...mayroon naman kasi silang tinatawag na legislative at saka executive power so, in a sense, autonomous sila," said Jerome Secillano, CBCP Executive Secretary, during a CNN special on the coronavirus pandemic.

[Translation: The CBCP is giving the dioceses' respective bishops the discretion...they have what you call legislative at executive power so in a sense, they are autonomous.]

President Rodrigo Duterte, upon recommendation of the government's task force, earlier announced Metro Manila will be placed under "community quarantine" as local COVID cases continue to spike. The chief executive also announced a travel restriction in the capital region, as people will not be allowed to go in and out of the metro by land, local air travel and local sea travel from midnight of March 15 until April 14, with some exceptions.

COVID-19, now considered by WHO as a pandemic, has infected more than 128,000 people in 116 different countries and territories including China. In the Philippines, 52 confirmed cases of the infectious disease have been recorded, including five casualties.