Catholic Church

San Agustin parish priest dies of COVID-19; more churchmen test positive

Paterno Esmaquel II

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San Agustin parish priest dies of COVID-19; more churchmen test positive

REST IN PEACE. Father Arnold Santa Maria Cañoza, parish priest of San Agustin Church, dies of COVID-19.

San Agustin Church/CBCP News

In Lipa, Archbishop Gilbert Garcera gets COVID-19 while elsewhere in the capital, the head of Caritas Manila and Radio Veritas also contracts the disease

The parish priest of a historic Manila church died of COVID-19, while at least two prominent churchmen tested positive for the disease, in one of the most worrisome weekends for Catholics during the coronavirus pandemic.

The iconic San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Manila, went on lockdown after its 45-year-old parish priest, Father Arnold Santa Maria Cañoza, died of COVID-19 on Sunday, March 21.

“Due to the nature of Fray Arnold’s death, the entire convent community will be on lockdown starting today, March 21, 2021. We ask everybody for prayers,” said his religious order, the Augustinians, in a statement on Facebook.

“Access to the church and convent will be restricted, and operations at the parish office will also be suspended until further notice,” announced the management of San Agustin Church, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is more than 400 years old.

In Lipa, Archishop Gilbert Garcera confirmed in a letter on Saturday, March 20, that he and other priests tested positive for the coronavirus. Garcera was the 10th Filipino bishop to get COVID-19.

“At present, we are in a health-managed condition. While necessary medical treatment continues, I must admit that the battle against COVID-19 is far from over,” Garcera said.

“Once again, I am requesting all priests to offer your Masses, Holy Hours, and recitation of the Rosary for our immediate recovery and an end to this pandemic,” he added.

Separately, church-run Radio Veritas announced on Sunday that its president, Father Anton Pascual, who also heads Caritas Manila, contracted the virus. Other officials and employees of Caritas Manila likewise tested positive.

The Catholic Church has been tightening measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, and at least 3 Metro Manila bishops announced on Sunday that they were canceling religious gatherings for two weeks. 

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Later on the same day, the government itself banned mass gatherings, including Holy Week services, in Metro Manila and nearby provinces Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal. –

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at