Friday, August 14, 2020
Aug. 14, 2020

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Coronavirus alters Holy Week celebration but not spirit

Many pastors will preach sermons on television or online

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The Rev. Steven Paulikas decorates an altar with palm fronds March 29 for Palm Sunday, which will be commemorated virtually this year, at All Saints' Episcopal Church in the Brooklyn borough of New York.
The Rev. Steven Paulikas decorates an altar with palm fronds March 29 for Palm Sunday, which will be commemorated virtually this year, at All Saints' Episcopal Church in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (Emily Leshner/Associated Press) Photo Gallery

For Pope Francis at the Vatican, and for Christians worldwide from churches large and small, this will be an Easter like none other: The joyous message of Christ’s resurrection will be delivered to empty pews.

Worries about the coronavirus outbreak have triggered widespread cancellations of Holy Week processions and in-person services. Many pastors will preach on TV or online, tailoring sermons to account for the pandemic. Many extended families will reunite via FaceTime and Zoom rather than around a communal table laden with an Easter feast on April 12.

“I’ll miss Mass and the procession,” said Aida Franco, 86, a retired teacher from Quito, Ecuador. “But God knows better.”

Pope Francis, the first pontiff from Latin America, will be celebrating Mass for Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Easter in a near-empty St. Peter’s Basilica, instead of in the huge square outside filled with Catholic faithful.

In the pope’s native Argentina, the archbishopric of La Plata encouraged the faithful to use any type of plant at home for a “virtual” blessing that will be livestreamed during Palm Sunday services this weekend.

The pandemic has prompted cancellation of a renowned annual tradition of sawdust and handmade flower carpets coating the streets of Antigua, a colonial Guatemalan city, during its Holy Week procession. Instead, some residents will make smaller carpets to display outside their homes.

“We know this is happening because of some message from God,” said Cesar Alvarez, who has been making the multicolored carpets with his family for 28 years. “But we’re taking it with a lot of sadness.”

In some communities, there are innovative efforts to boost Eastertime morale.

At Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kan., family ministries director Heather Jackson is organizing an Easter egg hunt that embraces social distancing. Parents and children are creating colorful images of Easter eggs to display in windows or on garage doors, and the “hunt” will entail families driving around in their cars, or strolling on foot, trying to spot as many eggs as possible.

“It’s about keeping people safe while maintaining that sense of joy,” Jackson said. “It will be a difficult time, because it’s a time for families to come together and right now we just can’t do that.”

If not for the virus, 32-year-old Chris Burton — a writer, teacher and devout Baptist in Brooklyn, N.Y. — would be planning a trip to Maryland for Easter dinner with his family.

Instead, he plans to watch the online service of his church, Trinity Baptist, and then catch up with relatives by phone.

Burton, who has experienced five bouts of pneumonia since 2011, has blogged about the need to shelter in place. Yet he still hopes this Easter will rekindle the uplifting emotions he’s cherished since wearing his Easter suit in childhood.

“All that’s happening doesn’t mean we need to be somber,” he said.

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