Manila, April 25, 2003 -- Devotees of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo church may soon be asked to refrain from kissing and dabbing their handkerchiefs on the statue to prevent the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) among the Catholic faithful.

Father Nanding Carpio, Quiapo church's priest of the day, told The STAR yesterday there are informal discussions being held among priests in the parish to formulate possible measures to prevent the spread of SARS among their parishioners.

The ban on touching the Black Nazarene and other religious images in the church is not yet in effect, Carpio said, because "it is still early." He noted that church operations and the influx of people into the church are "still normal."

Other plans include putting up a screen or a thin layer of foam on the confession window, which will be sprayed with disinfectant from time to time; and asking the churchgoers to receive the host by hand during holy communion and to stop spitting in church.

"We will encourage them to always take precautionary measures due to this health issue," Carpio said. "We will continuously remind them of it."

He added, "But if we make all these measures, baka naman kung ano na ang isipin ng Diyos, na wala tayong tiwala sa Kanya."

Carpio sought the assistant of the Department of Health (DOH), admitting that it will be difficult to impose orders on people.

He said that even when the Church does its part by asking people to abide by certain rules of conduct, there might be some parishioners who choose to ignore these arrangements.

Carpio added that the Church might need the DOH to conduct seminars on SARS for them to be able to draw up effective guidelines to protect parishioners from SARS.

"We hope the DOH would tell us what to do," he said.

Devotees of the Black Nazarene are also not taking any chances.

Del, who has been a devotee for over 25 years, said she would still continue to pray to the Black Nazarene but will no longer kiss or dab at the statue with a handkerchief.

"It's hard to take chances," she said. "My faith in Him is strong, but I think it does not hurt to look after your health. I know He would understand."

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, on the other hand, urged Catholics to stay calm but remain cautious, and to listen to health authorities.

He called on the DOH to be transparent and truthful about their findings and advisories on SARS.

Cruz also urged Catholics to pray so that the SARS problem is solved soon.

"We Filipinos are not alien to calamities and disasters. And it is good to remember that even the SARS plague will certainly pass away," he said. "SARS will be ultimately vanquished by scientific research."

Cruz added that in the meantime, "as long as the DOH does not rule otherwise, let us continue with our daily work and chores, including our scheduled celebrations in different cities and municipalities." (Star)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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