PLENARY INDULGENCE. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions against visiting cemeteries on All Souls' Day, a partial plenary indulgence by Pope Francis is extended for Catholic Church members throughout November for the reparation of sins of the departed. To receive the plenary indulgence, one must go to confession, attend mass and receive communion, and visit the cemeteries, and pray for the Holy Father's intentions. (File photo by Judy Flores Partlow)

DUMAGUETE CITY – Margarita Felicisimo is a devout Catholic who has religiously visited the tombs and graves of her departed loved ones every year in early November, bringing flowers, lighting candles, and offering prayers.

Her yearly routine would take her not only to the cemeteries in her hometown, but she would go with some family members to other cities and municipalities where dead relatives are also buried, doing the same rituals come November 1 and November 2, the feast days of saints and the departed souls, respectively.

But restrictions due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, which prohibited the public from flocking to the cemeteries for the twin religious celebrations of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day this year, prevented the 69-year old woman from carrying out her “devotion”, as she calls it, on these dates.

In some instances, both holy days of obligation for the Catholic Church are referred to as Days of the Dead in remembrance of those who have died, a tradition that many had to forego this year.

The government last month had already announced the prohibition of family gatherings and visits to the cemeteries from Oct. 29 to Nov. 4 to prevent elevating the risks of spreading the coronavirus, and some local government units (LGUs) had even imposed the restriction earlier.

“Gaguol ko kay dili ko makahimo ani karong tuiga, tungod kay gawas nga gibawal, senior citizen pa ko ug dili makapasagad ug gawas gawas (I am sad because I cannot do it this year because aside from the prohibition, I am a senior citizen and cannot just roam around freely),” Felicisimo said.

She said she had to settle for just praying at home in front of an altar with photos of some relatives on a separate table and offering Masses for the dead, which she could also not even participate in because of age restrictions.

Instead of the ban on cemetery visits and "responsos" or prayers and blessings of the graves, however, the Catholic Church here announced that masses for the departed were to be offered on all the Mondays of October and the first two Mondays of November.

But what is more enlightening is that Msgr. Julius Perpetuo S. Heruela, the parish priest of the St. Nicholas de Tolentino Parish in Dauin town, in an interview said that Felicisimo and all the other Catholic faithful can now receive the plenary indulgence intended for the souls in Purgatory all throughout November.

“Pope Francis has extended the partial plenary indulgence for all the departed souls instead of only up to Nov. 8 because of the unique situation that we are facing due to the pandemic, provided one can comply with the requirements,” the priest said.

A plenary indulgence, to be given by the Holy Father, is to help reduce the “temporal” punishment for the souls in Purgatory, he said.

But, Heruela said that one must go to confession, attend mass and receive communion, pray for the intentions of the Pope, and visit the graves of the departed during the period when a plenary indulgence is made available to avail of such.

Now that restrictions have been lifted, people have started visiting the cemeteries although there are no large crowds as anticipated previously during the start of this month, he said.

Confessions have also resumed at some churches on certain days, with confessional boxes designed to ensure physical distancing, while regular masses are also already being held, making it easier for Felicisimo and all other Catholics, he added.

Felicisimo, elated by this development, is now hoping that within November, she can visit the cemeteries to pay respects to her deceased relatives while also meaning to comply with the requirements for the partial plenary indulgence.

“Kinanglan man nga kita ang muampo para sa mga kalag sa purgatoryo kay dili man sila maka ampo para sa ilang kaugalingon (We have to pray for the souls in Purgatory because they cannot pray for themselves”, she said.

Felicisimo also believes that the departed can also pray for the living. (PNA)