WELCOMING THE PILGRIMS. The National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Marilao, Bulacan welcomes devotees for this year's Holy Week celebration. Devotees shared their joy from being able to return to the shrine and that the Covid-19 pandemic never dimmed but instead strengthened their faith in God. (PNA photo by Raquel Bonustro)

MANILA – The coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) epidemic is not just seen as a health and economic scourge but also an arduous test of the people's faith in God and how it became stronger despite the curbs to practice religious activities in the past years.

After two years of churches closing their doors, pilgrims and devotees welcome the easing of restrictions, especially concerning religious activities, making it possible for many to physically go to church and attend pious events.

At the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Marilao, Bulacan on Monday, the fervent faith of devotees was evident as they remembered the life and sacrifices of Christ to redeem humanity from their sins this Holy Week.

Notwithstanding the distance, the members of the Divine Mercy Apostolate of St. Joseph Parish came all the way from Gagalangin, Tondo to visit the shrine.

Their Head Servant, who preferred to be called Len, could not help but share the excitement and happiness she felt after two years of limited movements, and home and community lockdowns.

“Sobrang saya. Siyempre yung labing apat na istasyon, mainit pero parang konting pagod lang kasi yung puso naming excited na magawa ulit ang ganitong gawain lalo na ngayon sa season ng Lent (We are very happy. The 14 stations of the Cross, the weather is very hot and it’s tiring, but that tiredness is incomparable to the excitement we felt in our hearts that we are able to do this activity again this Lenten season),” adding that, “Kasi ito talaga tradisyon ng hindi lang mga asosasyon ng simbahan kundi talagang living tradition ng (These are traditions not only by church associations but a living tradition of the) Filipino Catholic Church”.

Len recalled that all their church activities were shelved for the last two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, this pandemic did not dampen their faith but bolstered it instead.

“Nakakalungkot sobra pero salamat sa Panginooong Diyos kung talagang malalim ang debosyon mo, hindi pwedeng pigilan ng pagkakakulong o hindi pagkikita kita yung desire mo na gawin yung Chaplet ng (That was very sad but thanks to God, if you have deep faith, the lockdown nor the absence of physical meeting cannot prevent your desire to do the Chaplet of the) Divine Mercy,” she said.

She added that the promise of redemption and eternal life is much more beautiful than anything else in the world.

Len is thankful that even if their group is mostly composed of seniors, nobody got infected. 

The group sang their way to the Stations of the Cross solemnly praying and meditating on each of the 14 stations that depict the Passion of Christ.

Meanwhile, Gie Moraga considers herself blessed as her house is situated very near the shrine, where she serves and works.

Moraga recalled how she saw the deep faith of the devotees of the Divine Mercy even during the height of the restrictions caused by the pandemic.

“Hindi po naging hadlang ito para yung mga deboto ay huminto sa pagpunta dito. Kahit sarado ang simbahan nakikita ko ang mga tao nakatayo sa labas ng gate at nagdarasal (This did not hinder the devotees from coming here. Even if the church is close, I see them standing outside the gate, praying),” she said.

Moraga said that her 20 years of serving as the parish secretary deepened her faith in the Divine Mercy.

She said that the many blessings and answered prayers that she received in her lifetime are enough for her to be thankful and to continue her devotion.

During the height of the pandemic, Moraga said that she and her family never skipped a Sunday attending the mass, even only virtually.

Rev. Fr. Kurt Stephen Buluran, the Parochial Vicar of the National Shrine and Parish of the Divine Mercy, said the pandemic made the devotees hold on more to their faith and God.

“Sa panahong ito ng pandemya siguro isa sa mga bagay na naidulot nito sa pananampalataya ng mga tao, higit nating napahalagahan yung ating pag asa. Nakita natin na sa kabila ng lahat na meron tayo, sa isang iglap ay pwedeng mawala ang lahat sa atin. Sa isang iglap ay pwede tayong mawala, dun natin nakita yung kalahagahan ng una, yung biyaya ng buhay na ibinibigay ng Diyos sa atin, pangalawa yung pag asa na meron sa atin ay makukuha lamang natin sa pananatili natin sa banal na awa ng Diyos (The pandemic has made the people more hopeful. We saw that despite everything that we have, it can be taken from us in a second. That anytime, our life may be taken away from us, and because of this, we saw the importance of the gift of life, and that hope springs from keeping our faith in God),” Buluran said. (PNA)