PHILIPPINES-CEMETERIES-ALL-SOULS

People place candles and flowers inside a public cemetery in Manila, Philippines, Nov. 1, 2017. Two Philippine dioceses announced they would close cemeteries on All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day for the second consecutive year due to rising COVID-19 cases. (CNS photo/Romeo Ranoco, Reuters)

MANILA, Philippines | Two Philippine dioceses announced they would close cemeteries on All Saints’ and All Souls’ days for the second consecutive year due to rising COVID-19 cases.

Legaspi Diocese in southern Luzon announced the decision a week after it was announced that Manila Archdiocese would close its cemeteries, reported ucanews.com.

Millions of Filipinos visit the graves of their loved ones during the annual celebration of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, Nov. 1 and 2, to show respect to departed family members and friends.

Activities usually begin a week earlier when families clean and paint graves for their visit. Families also pray novenas and take food to the cemetery as part of a tradition honoring the dead.

Bishop Joel Baylon of Legaspi told Radio Veritas Oct. 13 that the decision to cancel events for a second year was made after consultations with health officials and clergymen in his diocese.

“The decision … was difficult, because many parishioners like to visit the graves of their loved ones. But we need to balance our faith with the reality this pandemic brings,” Bishop Baylon said.

The diocese said it has asked local authorities to post police at cemetery gates from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3.

Last year, the Philippine government declared cemeteries and columbaries in the entire country off limits for the two special days.

This year, Bishop Baylon said he made the unilateral decision to close cemeteries in his jurisdiction, “since COVID-19 case numbers in our province are still alarming.”

Despite stricter containment measures imposed by authorities, the virus has continued to spread.

Bishop Baylon also urged Catholics not to visit cemeteries at all if possible to avoid mass transmission of the virus, ucanews.com reported.

“We will have online Masses for our dearly departed. We will also broadcast these Masses via our radio and local TV networks. So, let’s use technology for the moment, because we should not take the virus lightly,” he said.

The Manila Archdiocese said the decision to close Catholic cemeteries in the capital came from Mayor Isko Moreno, who is also a candidate in next year’s presidential election.

Moreno ordered the closure of all cemeteries in Manila, including Muslim cemeteries, Oct. 29-Nov. 3.

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