Did you know that before CoVid-19, there was another CoVid or coronavirus that hit the world and the Baclaran shrine? This happened in 2003. Perhaps, we can call this as CoVid-2002.
Covid-19 also known as SARS-CoV-2 is the second severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus pandemic to hit the world. If covid-19 is the second, then when was the first?
SARS-CoV-1 is the first severe acute respiratory syndrome which exploded on April 2003 in Asia and secondary cases elsewhere in the world. However, the outbreak began on 16 November 2002, in China’s Guangdong province, bordering Hong Kong.
Compared to Covid-19, SARS-CoV-1 was a very mild pandemic. The pandemic had a short span, which lasted from November 2002 to July 2003. A total of 8,098 people worldwide became sick with severe acute respiratory syndrome that was accompanied by either pneumonia or respiratory distress syndrome (probable cases), according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Of these, 774 died. By late July 2003, no new cases were being reported, and WHO declared the global outbreak to be over.
SARS-CoV-1 affected the services at the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in April 2003. Unlike Covid-19, however, services at the shrine continued; the shrine was never closed. I remember this, as I was rector of the shrine during this time. The Redemptorist community taking heed of the calls by the WHO and the Department of Health especially in crowded areas including the church, has implemented some precautionary measures in the Shrine.
The first measure to be introduced was the reception of communion by hand. This was implemented in the last week of April. In the first week of May, the community received a circular from the Diocese of Parañaque which further spelled out the precautionary measures which needs to be done in the churches.
“Added to the precautionary measures from the Department of Health (DOH), the Diocese strongly recommended and advised the following for temporary implementation:
- Refrain from, or better still stop the folk religious practice of wiping hankerchiefs on and/or kissing images and statues.
- Besamanos or the kissing of hands, especially of priests, should be abandoned. Other forms of showing respect may be used. Joining hands at the Our Father is also to be discontinued.
- Face to face confession should be avoided. The use of the confessional may even be riskier for both priest and penitents. Confession is to be done not in a confined space but in an open one, side by side with the penitent and at some comfortable distance.
- We will avail of communion in the hand only. The value of this shift in practice cannot be overemphasized. We recommend that ushers station themselves by the communion line to remind communicants and to see to the proper reception of the Eucharist in this manner.”
Taking heed of this circular, the community temporarily suspended confession inside the confessional boxes on April 30, 2003 – which was difficult being a Wednesday. The community instead celebrated the third rite of common celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation spread in between several masses and novenas throughout the day. For the daily confessions, the face-to-face box at the corner of the church was opened, without turning the air condition on and a table was placed between the penitent and the confessor. Prayers for divine intervention on SARS was inserted in the novena prayers during Wednesdays and in the intercessions during Sundays.
As expected there were varied reactions to the measures. Some people did not take the measures seriously as they went their usual practice. Others continued to wipe and kiss the images of saints in the church. Even during the communion at hand there were some who insisted on receiving communion through the mouth. Some complained that their monthly devotion was interrupted because they were not able to go to individual confession. They would not accept any explanation even as they were told that these are just temporary measures owing to the extra-ordinary situation.
On the other hand, there were also those who understood the necessity of precautionary measures. Some were appreciative of the response the church has made to this situation. Others went beyond SARS by emphasizing the need for cleanliness, personal hygiene, healthy living and caring for the environment with or without SARS.
Perhaps, we don’t have to wait for another CoVid in the future. After Covid-19 is all over we should learn all the hard lessons. We cannot go back to the old normal. Radical changes is needed for both our individual lifestyles and the bigger socio-politico-economic system in the world.
 “Frequently Asked Questions About SARS,” Center for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC.gov accessed 5 May 2020 at https://www.cdc.gov/sars/about/faq.html