Lifting their cats, dogs and birds out of car windows, pet owners in the virus-stricken Philippine capital Manila sought drive-through blessings from priests who said a prayer and doused the animals with holy water.
Hundreds of cars lined up at the residential and commercial complex Eastwood City on Sunday for the yearly event on World Animal Day and the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.
“We brought our pet Calie because we want her to be blessed. She is our first dog and we know that she is a blessing to our family, especially to our kids,” Florelyn Calitis told VICE News.
For the devout in Catholic-majority Philippines, the annual ceremony is meant to ensure good health for pets and is not to be missed, even as the coronavirus dampened the usually festive mood.
“We may not be able to celebrate it the way we used to, but we still have lots of reasons to be grateful for the moments we get to spend with our loyal friends,” Tefel Pesigan-Valentino, a representative of the mall that hosted the event, said in a statement.
The Philippines has the worst virus outbreak in Southeast Asia, with ongoing lockdown restrictions and nearly 330,000 confirmed cases since the pandemic was first detected there in March. It is now one of the top 20 countries in the world most affected by the disease.
Animal blessings usually bring out big crowds and have traditionally been held in churches. But authorities restricted church activities in response to the pandemic, leading to the idea for the drive-through event.
Pet loving parents who don’t own cars or could not go out held their pets near a TV or computer screens for an online blessing organized by the Philippine Animal Welfare Society.