By Nicole Anne Pulido

Ash Wednesday signifies Catholics’ embarking on their Lenten journey. It is one of the most significant holy days in the liturgical calendar. It is a day of repentance and profession of faith. Ash Wednesday comes from the ancient Jewish tradition of penance and fasting. The traditional practice includes the priest applying the ashes, which are made from burnt blessed palms and symbolize the dust from which God made us, with his bare hand to a person’s forehead. The priest says the formula, “Repent, and Believe in the Gospel”, or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” 

However, the traditional practice of Ash Wednesday was modified this year by the Catholic Church because of the Novel Coronavirus pandemic befalling the entire world. The Church rolled out creative ideas on how to observe Ash Wednesday for the people to keep safe and avoid spreading the virus. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Cubao released guidelines for the celebration of Ash Wednesday 2021. The priest pronounced the formula only once to the entire congregation. Imposition of ashes was administered through sprinkling on the head in contrast to the more common practice of imposition on the forehead. For those who attended Mass online, the imposition was done by the head of the family or household. 

The pandemic indeed took its toll on everyone. It has gravely wounded the world economy with serious consequences, impacting all communities and individuals. For a number of families, it could mean big changes in everyday routines due to financial hardships. It could also mean raised anxiety, tension in relationships or general fear. Myriads of lives were also taken away by the Coronavirus Disease 2019. Perhaps this labyrinth of suffering teaches the people to love, listen, care, respect, and help. Nobody can live without relationships. It is truly amazing to see how people stick together at times which is why the IHMP is grateful to connect with some of its parishioners who are very eager to share their experiences during this pandemic. Mrs. Agnes Acosta and Mrs. Elaine Urbano, on behalf of their families, corresponded with the Media Ministry’s Friland Fernandez and Vince Abrigonda.

       1.How did you exercise your faith during this pandemic? 

Agnes: “We participate in online masses 7 days a week.”

Elaine: “Because I am immunocompromised, I had no choice but to stay at home. It gave me the opportunity to celebrate daily masses online and spend more time in prayer. The pandemic lockdown taught me to really depend on the Lord for much needed graces in my life especially the daily provisions and sustenance for my family, loved ones, and the people around me. As part of the IHMP Evangelization Team, I am glad to have helped our parish sponsor and offer the evangelization talk series every Saturday from August to December 2020. I hope that thru these webinars, our parishioners will realize the great love and mercy of God especially during these times and that we must believe in God’s infinite goodness.”

       2. What struggles did you encounter and how did you solve it?

Agnes: “Aside from above, we’ve been wanting to receive communion physically as we used to do before the pandemic but we have to satisfy ourselves in receiving Him spiritually.” 

Elaine: “There are days when fear and anxiety creep in because of the threat of the virus. I miss serving in my parish as commentator/lector, attending PPC meetings with fellow church leaders, my bonding moments with my family and friends on weekends or weekdays after a full day’s work, going to the mall with my family to unwind on weekends, and bringing my grandchild to play houses inside the malls. Since I have no choice but to stay home, I contented myself with the use of social media platforms such as zoom, messenger, and viber to communicate with the outside world. I also prayed more, listened to religious songs and watched videos about our spiritual and Christian life. These activities removed my anxieties and fears; somehow, they strengthened my faith. I keep on living life to the fullest despite the limitations and believe that God will take care of us and put an end to this pandemic in His own perfect time.”

     3. How do you feel that the lenten season is coming?

Agnes: “This lenten season brings to us high hopes that change of hearts of all people & renewed connection with God would happen & that the pandemic would come to an end soonest.” 

Elaine: “This year’s lenten season is more meaningful to me because I feel that mankind is also struggling and suffering greatly due to this pandemic, just like what our Lord has gone through. This is the time to reflect on our present lives and assess our relationship with God. I realized that instead of keeping ourselves busy with the material and mundane things of this world, we should strive to deepen our faith and give more emphasis on how we can be a blessing to others. There are so many things around us that we can live without. What matters most is our personal relationship with our God and how we can share our life with others to make this world a better place to live in.”

The uncertainty of going back to the traditional practices of the Church lies ahead of us. But what remains constant is that God will give His Holy Spirit to all of us so that our hearts may brim with gratitude, patience, hope, joy, and compassion. We may not escape this labyrinth of suffering in a straight and fast manner, but our fulfilled and faithful hearts will keep us in moving forward.