I am humbled and grateful for the lively discussion brought about by the Pastoral Instruction WE WORSHIP THE LORD I issued on March 23, 2021. In the hope that the ongoing conversation may bring greater unity, allow me to point out following:
1. In the short instruction of less than 1000 words, more than 9 times it is mentioned that we make use of online platforms in our participation in our religious activities. This shows that the great majority of the faithful is encouraged to join through the digital facilities.
2. This is a pastoral instruction, that is, it is meant to help the pastors and their flocks how to worship the Lord in this important season of the year in the face of the pandemic. The pastoral instruction also asserts our right to worship but setting a limit to the physical attendance of those who feel the need to do.
3. We come to this limit of 10% of our church physical capacity because we feel that this number does not constitute a “mass gathering.” We have the experience of one year of having our health protocols in place in our churches, and as is experienced by those who come to church, these are well observed. Our priests and church volunteers are well aware of their responsibilities and they do them well.
4. In the Church we follow the principle of subsidiarity, which means that the decisions are ultimately done on the ground by the parishes. We do not believe in unnecessary centralization. Instructions are given as guidance for those in the parishes to make decisions. The parish priests, in consultation with their lay leaders, will decide whether they will have their religious activities, with the people, but not beyond the 10% capacity of their churches, or do them in other forms, depending on their local conditions. The Archdiocese of Manila consists of the cities of Manila, Makati, San Juan, Mandaluyong, and Pasay and parishes in these cities have different local conditions. Our priests are well-oriented that the supreme law in the church is SALUS ANIMARUM, the salvation of the people. I am confident that their decisions are animated by this principle.
5. We have to take note that a very important part of the pastoral instruction is to take care of the poor, especially of those who have no food. Hence the ALAY KAPWA collections in the parishes will be used to give AYUDA to the people on Holy Thursday, the day that we are reminded of the command to one another as Jesus loves us. The conversation should not just be on the “10%” but on addressing the problem of growing hunger among the people. This should be addressed also by the government and not just limit their responsibility to the exercise control over the people’s activities. Hopefully both the local and national governments should make provisions to give subsidies the people in this time of need.
Although misunderstandings may have been occasioned by this pastoral instruction, we are happy that this has brought to the fore three things about government policies. First, they should be clear about their instructions, like the proper understanding of what constitutes “mass gathering.” Not all religious activities per se should be lumped together as a “mass gathering.” Second, we assert our right to worship and the state should respect this and not unnecessarily hamper it. Religious activities are essential services for the wellbeing of people. Third, state regulatory bodies should consult the sectors concerned when making policies about them. I lament the fact that the religious sectors are not represented, nor even consulted, when they make policies affecting our life of worship. Holy Week is not just any ordinary time for the Christian believers. It is a time during which we feel more specially God’s love for us so we are drawn these days to thank and worship him more intensely.
+ Broderick Pabillo
Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila
March 24, 2021
Read: We Worship the Lord