Eerie photos show quiet Easter and Passover celebrations amidst the COVID-19 outbreak: Drive-thru sermons, virtual Seders, and a lone pope
Many Easter and Passover celebrations this year have gone online, as the coronavirus pandemic circles the globe. Some churches are offering drive-thru and drive-in services, to keep parishioners apart. Because the novel coronavirus is spread mainly through respiratory droplets exchanged from person to person, keeping people away from one another, and avoiding mass gatherings altogether, is one of the most fail-safe ways to help stop the spread of this virus. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Churches around the globe will be largely empty this Easter Sunday, as religious leaders encourage their worshipers to celebrate the holiday from their homes this year, to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus around. At the Vatican, Pope Francis is planning to do Easter morning mass to an empty St. Peter's Basilica on Sunday. "This year, Easter will be different for many of us," Queen Elizabeth said in a recording shared by the royal family on Saturday. "But by keeping apart, we keep others safe." People of the Jewish faith have likewise been taking their Passover celebrations online this week, hosting virtual Seders, and bringing their laptop screens to the table, instead of inviting relatives over to sit down in person. Here's how people around the globe are celebrating two major religious holidays this spring, while keeping their distance from one another: Normally, the Way of the Cross procession in Rome on Good Friday attracts quite a crowd.
But this year, as Italians hunkered down in their homes to contain the spread of COVID-19, the streets of the Italian capital were remarkably quiet. There was no public participation allowed as Pope Francis led his Way of the Cross procession on Good Friday at the Vatican.
The quieter-than-usual celebration fell in line with new guidance issued from the World Health Organization earlier this week, encouraging religious leaders to take more faith meetings online.
"If a gathering is planned, consider holding it outdoors," the WHO said.
"Maintain at least 3 feet of distance between people at all times," the agency said. Polish priests moved their confessions outside too on Good Friday, and wore masks while listening to their parishioners.
Wearing masks may help prevent some spread of a virus to others, but it's not as effective as staying away from other people, who may be infected with COVID-19 and not know it. Easter food is also being blessed from a distance in Poland this year.
In the coastal southern town of Taranto, Italy, one priest took his Good Friday procession to the roof, so church neighbors could participate at a safe distance, from their balconies and windows.
The streets of Sevilla, Spain, normally crowded with some of the most ornate 'Semana Santa' processions and floats, are eerily quiet this year.
In the United States, more than 2,000 people died from the coronavirus on Friday.
That's the highest number of COVID-19 fatalities any country has recorded in a single day yet. Because the coronavirus is spread easily between people who sit, talk, eat, and sing together for sustained periods of time, churches across the country are shuttering.
Harvest Baptist Church of Harrison, Pennsylvania took its congregation to a drive-thru, so people wouldn't have to sit next to one another in church, and spread germs.
Of course, people who live in the same household can still share space, but the idea is to avoid coming in contact with others outside the home, who may easily spread their virus around by talking, breathing, spitting, coughing, or singing.
The Mexican government is encouraging Mexicans living abroad in the US not to travel home to visit family this Easter.
The Mexican Foreign Ministry said any Mexicans living in the US who may typically come back to the country for Easter celebrations should put that annual tradition on hold this year. Easter egg hunts and egg rolls around the country in the US are being replaced with more time at home.
"The health and safety of all Americans must be the first priority, especially right now," First Lady Melania Trump said, cancelling the 2020 White House Easter Egg Roll. "I deeply regret this cancellation, but we need to make difficult decisions in the short-term to ensure a healthy country for the long-term." A lot of churches are planning to live-stream their Sunday services this week, but there are still at least a few pastors in the US planning to hold in-person services this Easter, despite evidence that more people could die that way.
Reverent Tony Spell in Baton Rouge, Louisiana said he expects 2,000 people to attend his Easter service this Sunday, despite a statewide stay-at-home order in his state. Major COVID-19 outbreaks in Kentucky, South Korea, Illinois, and Washington have all been traced back to church gatherings.
At least six people are now dead after contracting COVID-19 at church in Kentucky, and two more were killed in Washington. Because the novel coronavirus is spread mainly through sustained, close contact between individuals, the most effective way to stop the spread of COVID-19 in a community is to keep people apart, for now anyway. Those who do venture in to churches around the world to pray right now are often asked to keep a safe distance from others.
In Italy, it's one to a pew, Reuters reported. Jews also began a week of Passover celebrations on Wednesday, and many of them were virtual.
Some recited the Haggadah text, which guides the Seder meal, on screens this year, instead of face to face.
"It was clunky and emotional," David Oliver wrote of his own Seder, celebrated via Zoom webconference.
"When you bring together 11 different households and 25 people onto a Zoom call (several of whom were in their late 80s), it doesn't go swimmingly," Oliver shared in USA Today. Still, he classified the meal as a "success."
"We made it through the retelling all in one piece, we ate foods like Matzah (unleavened bread) and dipped parsley into salt water (to represent the bitterness the Jews faced) and my roommates and I drank too much wine," he said. "We smiled and laughed, cried and loved." Italians hoping to celebrate their 'Pasqua' with lamb and other traditional Easter foods waited in long lines for groceries Saturday, and had their temperatures checked before shopping.
"The virus is not on holiday," French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said on Thursday evening, urging French citizens not to partake in any of their usual Easter vacations.
French officials said people in that country will need to stay at home until at least April 15, and probably longer. The WHO suggests parishioners who must get together avoid any touching, and keep their meetings very brief.