What used to be a very hectic month prior to the annual Peñafrancia fiesta celebration is fast approaching. Given however the ever spreading coronavirus pandemic there is no other choice but to tone down both the religious and civic activities.
To be deeply affected are devotees of “INA”, Nuestra Sra. de Peñafrancia, Regional Patroness of Bicolandia, many of whom organize pilgrimages even weeks before the traditional fluvial procession.
Some might feel deprived of the opportunity to kiss the miraculous image of the Lady of Peñafrancia. Others will also miss the huge crowd participating in the traslacion and fluvial procession.
Pragmatism however dictates that protocols in order to avoid being infected by the virus are observed. Wearing of face mask is indispensable. Sanitation practices are necessary even without a pandemic.
The more complicated requirement is social or physical distancing which certainly cannot be enforced effectively during religious rites like the traslacion and fluvial procession. If during normal times they are difficult to observe how much more with the threat of COVID-19.
Another practice which faces so much risk is the kissing of relics. To be clear about it, the images do not spread the infection. But those making physical contact with the statues are very vulnerable to infection which is transmitted so easily.
About contributions, donations and alms giving, they could be done online. If others want due acknowledgement, procedures are already in place. Leave that to the religious authorities minus so much fanfare.
In case some wish to hear mass or even take communions, facilities may be availed of online or via television and radio. Worldwide, EWTN—Eternal Word Television Network, provides services 24 hours a day. Locally, masses celebrated are covered by a number of radio and TV stations.
As to civic festivities—parades, beauty pageants and cultural presentations, there are already substitutes. Without being anti social about it, parades are already culturally irrelevant. The so called military parades have not at all been proven to have contributed to a more disciplined uniformed men and women uniform, much less of the plain citizens.
When it comes to beauty pageants, why are those who feel being beautiful in doubt, that is why they want it publicly declared? Besides, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, so it is said.
Some maybe wishing to entertain visitors during the fiesta but let us face the fact that it is not practical this time. Transportation is very complicated. In fact during normal times before, many pilgrims no longer visited friends and relatives due to mobility issues.
More importantly, if it would be a source of any consolation or solidified faith, rituals alone do not grant free tickets to heaven. Good deeds count more. A biblical passage is of relevance. “Not everyone who says to me. “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven.”(Matthew76:21).
Anyway, in God’s own chosen time, rites like those of yesteryears will be back.