Easter services during a pandemic in the Philippines

easter during a pandemic

Last Updated on June 3, 2023 by Ellen

Happy Easter! We’ve made it to mass! With a little effort, mom and I were able to attend both Good Friday and Holy Saturday evening vigil services. It is the first time we have been to Catholic masses in 26 total days of quarantine and lockdown here in Caticlan, Aklan, Panay, Philippines.

Of course, we’ve been hoping for an opportunity to attend mass all along. And I know mom has been especially eager to celebrate the Eucharist during this Lenten season. In fact, she has been watching masses on YouTube. But we’d been told all services in the area had been cancelled.

However, last Sunday (Palm Sunday), as I waited along the main road for a ride into town to visit the market, I noticed several people riding on motorbikes carrying palms and dressed nicely – as if they had been to church.

When I mentioned this to our host/landlady, Yolly, she said she would look into it. She told us a few days ago that unbeknownst to her, there were services being conducted at the Catholic Church in the nearby city of Malay which is a couple miles beyond our current home and well past the port and town of Caticlan.

easter during a pandemic - an exterior view of the church

On Friday, we tagged along with two neighborhood women who were also going to the Good Friday service scheduled for 3 p.m. We all walked on the beach for much of the 30 minutes that it took to get there; probably a mile-and-half total distance.

We didn’t know quite what to expect. The walk would take us out of our ‘community enhanced quarantine’ area. Technically, I am the only one of our household who is permitted outside of our boundary. I have a quarantine pass with my name on it. I brought that pass.

walk to church to easter services during a pandemic in the philippines

Off we went – strolling in the sunny, breezy, heat down the lengthy beach that goes west from our resort. All four of us had face masks too — another requirement when leaving your home quarantine area. Along the way, we passed several groups of people, obviously families, tending boats and fishing nets along their beach properties.  And we got some ‘double takes’. No one has seen a tourist here in more than three weeks.

After walking on the beach for about 20 minutes, we cut through a vacant property to access the main road which is very close and parallel to the waterfront. The four of us then walked another ten minutes on the road into the city of Malay. Again, we passed a few homes where folks gawked for a moment. But for the most part things were still, quiet, a little spooky. Only a couple motor scooters passed by on the streets.

tedly's selfie on walk to easter services during a pandemic in the philippines

Just after 3 p.m. we arrived at the St. Joseph parish church in the center of Malay after walking past the closed post office, recreation center, and health clinic. There were a few people outside the church and a sparse crown inside.

Of course, we were thankful to have made it. No one had asked us our business or done any checks during our walk. We had passed no ‘officials’ of any kind. And the town of Malay really was shut down completely.

Inside the church we took seats with about 50 other church-goers. I figure the church could hold 400 to 500 people. Most Good Friday’s it would probably be full. I found a pew beneath a strong fan. About half the worshippers wore masks. Everyone sat five to six feet apart, even couples.

church easter services during a pandemic in the philippines

The service was standard. Nothing fancy. No music at all. The alter decorated in traditional Lenten purple. There were four readers/attendants in addition to the priest. Of course, the language was Tagalog. No English. I did notice two young guys with a video camera up in the rear choir loft. For holy communion each attendee lined up using social distancing spacing.

Afterwards, the small crowd filtered out into the church entry area along the town square. A pickup truck was loaded with a large crucifix and blessed by the priest. A police car then lead the truck away on what we understood to be a slow procession around the town and neighboring villages.

priest good friday

Holy Saturday

Today, Saturday, we repeated this procedure exactly – this time leaving at 5:30 p.m. for the scheduled 6 p.m. Easter vigil. Once again, everything went smoothly. Few people took any notice of us. We wore our masks and kept distance between us at all times.

The Easter vigil – again in Tagalog – was a lengthy candlelight affair of almost two hours and attended by about 100 church-goers, many with food and water to be blessed. Social distancing and masks were mostly practiced. A guitar player and small choir made it feel more ‘normal’. 

At about 8 p.m. our group walked back out of town exactly the same way we had come. But instead of using the beach in the dark, we stayed on the main road. In about 30 minutes we were back at our beachside resort. 

Not once on either trip did we have any issue with quarantine rules or passes even though we were the only obvious tourists. Of course, mom and I were in the company of two Filipina women and wearing masks the whole time. We did pass several side roads with ‘guards’ at the turn-off, just like our neighborhood has.

neighborhood pandemic checkpoint

In all, it was an easy and appreciated break from our daily quarantine lives. And mom was really glad we got to go. Many thanks to the local folks who helped make it happen. It certainly made this a memorable Easter/quarantine season.

As always, be thankful and generous, happy trails, & more beer.

Life is NOW!

Thanks for reading!

You might also like our series about being locked down and under quarantine in the Philippines as early retired budget travelers.

Start here.

2 thoughts on “Easter services during a pandemic in the Philippines”

  1. Glad to hear you got your Mom to the services–although I worry about the risk a little… Has there been confirmed COVID-19 cases on Panay Island?

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