Something strange happened in our Ash Wed Masses at the San Roque Cathedral in Caloocan city. Some Mass-goers reported feeling a burning sensation on their foreheads immediately after the imposition of ashes on them. They washed it off in the parish toilets and noted what looked like reddish rashes or blisters on the very spots that had been wiped with ashes. Strangely, others who lined up for the imposition of ashes by other lay ministers didn’t experience the same thing.

Upon hearing of the complaints, our cathedral pastoral vicar decided to immediately pull out the ashes and rushed to neighboring parishes to ask for some of their own ashes. They also referred the affected individuals immediately to our cathedral clinic for first aid treatment. Our volunteer doctor said it was indeed like skin burns caused by a chemical substance. He suggested having our ashes (mingled with holy water) tested in a nearby chemical laboratory. We’re still waiting for the result.

We checked if our cathedral staff had done anything with the ashes that was different from what we’ve done for many years already. They too were puzzled by what had happened.

The fact that only some and not all the Mass-goers seem to have been adversely affected by the ashes could only mean that only some specific containers contained the toxic substance, and not all of them. We have asked our staff to review our cctv footages for any possibility of sabotage. Could somebody have maliciously sneaked in to mix acid in the ashes?

In the meantime, we have deployed some volunteers to immediately apply first aid treatment on those who have been affected. We have bought the ointment recommended by the doctor for immediate relief and treatment, and made it available for anyone who has been affected.

We apologize for whatever harm has inadvertently been caused by what should have been a solemn ritual marking the beginning of Lent. Those affected may come to us for treatment. Those who may have spent for treatment may come to our office, present the receipt for medications bought and we will have them reimbursed. Rest assured that we will not leave a single stone unturned in order to find our what had caused this unfortunate incident.


They call it overcooked charcoal turned into caustic ashes that that produce highly basic or alkaline when mixed with water. The palm fronds are traditionally burned in earthen pots. But since there was a huge pile of palm fronds to, the gradual adding of palm fronds led to over burning, producing not dark charcoal but greyish ashes. Not all were affected because the liquid part that turned basic surfaced and became d cause for blisters. The rest who got just moist ashes suffered only minor rashes that disappeared as soon as the substance was washed off. We’ve ruled out the possibility of a sabotage after reviewing cctv footages carefully. What matters for us is that we are able to apply the proper medication—silver sulfadiazine on people who have been affected.


Most. Rev. Pablo Virgilio David, D.D.
Diocese of Kalookan