Officials for the Catholic Church of the Philippines are altering guidelines for Ash Wednesday service in the country amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus, according to a Vatican-run news service.
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The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) advised that priests should sprinkle ashes on the crown of the head, rather than the traditional practice of marking the forehead with a cross, in order to limit body contact and the possibility of transmitting the virus. For Catholics around the world, Lent begins Wednesday and continues for 40 days.
“This is not an innovation but in accord with the ancient practice of the Church,” Archbishop Romulo Valles said in a statement.
The CBCP advised churchgoers in the Philippines to refrain from other forms of contact during the service, such as kissing or touching the cross.
The revised guidelines are the latest of several instances of Catholic churches in Asia taking preventative measures. Officials in Hong Kong suspended church services in recent weeks and canceled the Ash Wednesday service entirely.
Catholic officials in Singapore, Myanmar and South Korea have also canceled or altered services.
The coronavirus outbreak began in China and has since spread to several other countries, including South Korea, Iran and Italy. In China alone, the virus has killed more than 2,600 people and infected more than 77,000.
Fears related to the virus have forced widespread store closures, resulted in travel restrictions and interrupted business in China and abroad.