For Filipino Catholics who thrived on traditional religious practices, 2020 will forever be remembered as the year their faith was put to the test.
With Holy Week rites canceled (for the first time since World War II), high-ranking church officials contracting COVID-19, and no face-to-face Masses to attend to limit exposure to the deadly disease, Catholics could only pray and trust in the power and protection of a Higher Being. (Read: Churchgoers can expect smaller Masses under the new normal)
This year also saw church officials take to the streets and speak their minds on a number of issues affecting Filipinos. (Read: Catholic Nun on Rape Culture: ‘Stop Victim Blaming’) Unity, peace, and love may be messages of the Church, but when human rights are trampled and injustices are an almost everyday occurrence, you can bet this hallowed institution isn’t going to take things sitting down.
My Pope Philippines reviews all the issues the Philippine Catholic Church faced this year, 2020— from politics to the pandemic!
2020 Recap: COVID-19 Changes Church Practices
The Traslacion may have pushed through this year (finishing at a record 16 hours), but other time-honored traditions were either shelved or slightly adjusted to stem the spread of the highly contagious novel coronavirus. (Read: IATF: Religious Gatherings Now Allowed Under GCQ Areas)
In February, Church officials suggested a no-contact form of Ash Wednesday, sprinkling ash on the heads of the faithful instead of using their thumb to mark a cross on the forehead. Holy Week 2020 was scrapped altogether, and Masses were celebrated online or on TV.
But with health protocols firmly in place and quarantine measures slowly easing up, churches began operating at 30 percent capacity in October. That Simbang Gabi was allowed to happen despite the ongoing pandemic is nothing short of a miracle.
2020 Recap: We Say Goodbye to Iconic Church Leaders
This year saw the passing of Healing Priest Fr. Fernando Suarez from a heart attack while playing tennis on February 4. Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz, an outspoken critic of the government, died of multiple organ failure due to COVID-19 on August 26. And Fr. Sonny Ramirez, who pioneered religious broadcasting in the Philippines and co-founded the charismatic community Oasis of Love, succumbed to a stroke on October 10.
2020 Recap: The Church Hits Back at the Government
In a July 25 statement, San Carlos Bishop Gerardo A. Alminaza criticized the current administration for its unjust killings, reckless red-tagging, and the then recently passed Anti-Terrorism Law. Bishop Alminaza’s impassioned statement came three days after Bacolod Bishop Patricio Buzon warned the faithful in his pastoral letter “that being silent in these trying times is not an option.” (Read: Church Leaders Unite To Take Stand Against Anti-Terrorism Law)
“The government must respect freedom of expression, should not give unlawful power to state forces to arrest and inflict terror, and must never desecrate the people’s civil and democratic rights,” said Bishop Alminaza.
2020 Recap: Cardinal Tagle Gets COVID-19
Prayers poured in for Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who tested positive for COVID-19 upon his arrival in Manila last September. After completing his mandatory two-week quarantine, the asymptomatic Cardinal, who then tested negative, attributed his speedy recovery to the countless prayers and encouraging messages of support. (Read: Cardinal Tagle Opens up About COVID-19 Experience)
Other Filipino church leaders who recovered from the novel coronavirus were Manila Apostolic Administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo, and Caloocan Bishop Emeritus Deogracias Iñiguez.
2020 Recap: The Church Rallies Behind ABS-CBN
When the network giant’s franchise renewal was denied in July 10, various Catholic leaders took the embattled broadcast company’s side, calling Congress’ 70-11 vote “a disgraceful act” that is “nothing more than a brazen display of power!” (Read: CBCP decries ABS-CBN shutdown, says Filipinos need reliable news sources)
“We salute the 11 lawmakers who stood up until the end in defending not only the franchise renewal but most importantly the hard-won democratic right of press freedom forcibly taken away during the dark era of Martial Law,” said the Major Religious Superiors.
Meanwhile, Bishop Honesto Ongtioco included the network intentions in all parish Masses in the Diocese of Cubao, and Kalookan Bishop Pablo David showed his support by tolling church bells in his diocese. (Read: Vatican’s New Apostolic Nuncio Arrives in Manila)
“You are our reason for being,” said ABS-CBN’s president and chief executive officer Carlo Katigbak to supporters. “If you believe our service is important and valuable…please let your thoughts and feelings be heard.”