By Lisa Marie David and Jay Ereno
MANILA (Reuters) – Dozens of Catholics in the Philippines braved the threat of coronavirus on Sunday to attend a mass outside the Baclaran Church in Manila to celebrate Palm Sunday, marking the beginning of the Holy Week.
Wearing face masks and observing physical distancing to protect themselves from COVID-19, they waved their palm fronds as the priest sprinkled holy water on them.
“I hope and pray this pandemic will end. I hope our (living) conditions will get better, especially since there are a growing number of people going hungry,” Stephane Silva said after attending mass.
Religious gatherings will be banned from Monday until Easter to comply with stricter quarantine restrictions the Philippine government reimposed in the capital and nearby provinces to slow the sharp rise in COVID-19 infections.
About 80% of people in the Philippines are Catholic.
At the St. Peter Parish in Quezon City, candles were attached to empty pews to represent parishioners taking part in Palm Sunday celebrations outside the church or online.
The Philippines is battling a renewed surge in infections, including those of the new and more transmissible variants, prompting the government to tighten existing curbs in the capital and nearby provinces.
Coronavirus cases and deaths in the Philippines totalled 721,892 and 13,170, the second highest in Southeast Asia, with infections reported in the past nine days accounting for a tenth of the total.
(Reporting by Lisa David and Jay Ereno; Writing by Karen Lema; Editing by Stephen Coates)