Christians celebrate Good Friday and Easter under virus problems

JERUSALEM (AP) – Christians in the Holy Land celebrated Good Friday without the mass pilgrimages typically seen in the days leading up to Easter due to the coronavirus, and worshipers in many other predominantly Christian countries where the virus is still spreading celebrated. its second annual holy day. Week with strict restrictions on meetings.

In Jerusalem, many holy sites were opened thanks to an ambitious Israeli vaccination campaign. It was a stark contrast to last year, when the city was on lockdown. In neighboring Lebanon, Christians celebrated Good Friday under a blockade and suffering a serious economic crisis.

In Latin America, penitents from Mexico and Guatemala to Paraguay carried thorn-covered tree branches and large crosses on Passion Plays that recreated the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. At the Vatican, Pope Francis presided over a torch-lit Stations of the Cross ceremony in St. Peter’s Square, renouncing for the second year the traditional Colosseum procession that draws thousands of pilgrims, tourists and Romans.

Worshipers in the Philippines and France celebrated a second annual Holy Week under movement restrictions amid outbreaks fueled by more contagious strains. In the United States, officials urged Christians to celebrate outdoors, while distancing themselves socially or in virtual ceremonies.

In the Old City of Jerusalem, brown-robed Franciscan friars led hundreds of worshipers down the Via Dolorosa, retracing what tradition holds were the final steps of Jesus, as they recited prayers through loudspeakers at the Stations of the Cross. Another group carried a large wooden cross, sang hymns, and stopped to offer prayers.

Religious sites were open to a limited number of the faithful. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on the spot where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, died and rose from the dead, was open to visitors wearing masks and social distancing.

Despite one of the most successful vaccination campaigns in the world, air travel to and from Israel is still limited by quarantine and other restrictions, keeping out foreign pilgrims who often crowd Jerusalem during Holy Week. In recent years, tens of thousands of pilgrims would descend to the holy sites of the city.

“In regular years, we urge people to come out of the closet. Last year we told people to stay home, ”said Wadie Abunassar, advisor to church leaders in the Holy Land. “This year we are somewhat silent.”

“We have to pray for those who cannot be here,” said Alejandro González, a Mexican who lives in Israel. “Those of us who can be here have the responsibility to take them into account and to follow this Way of the Cross that they are also going through.”

In Lebanon, Christians celebrated Good Friday amid a severe economic crisis exacerbated by the massive explosion that demolished parts of the capital last year. Even traditional Easter sweets are a luxury few can afford.

“People don’t even talk about the party,” says Majida Al Asaily, a sweet shop owner in Beirut. “We have not witnessed anything like this this year, despite the war and other difficulties we have faced before.”

In the Vatican, candles flickering in the breeze were placed in a circle around the central obelisk in St. Peter’s Square and along a path leading to the steps outside St. Peter’s Basilica. There, Francis sat under a canopy in the dark on a warm night, listening to children reading meditations composed by other children recounting painful episodes in their lives.

One child wrote about loneliness in the COVID-19 pandemic, not being able to visit grandparents to keep them safe from contagion and missing classmates and teachers, as schools in Italy have been closed for long periods due to closure. Another wrote about the COVID-19 grandfather’s death with no relatives in a hospital.

At one point, Francis prayed that God would give people his hope so that “we can recognize you even in the darkest moments of our lives.”

Anti-pandemic measures have devastated tourism in Italy and have greatly reduced religious pilgrimages to a minimum. Only a few hundred participants, including prelates, were allowed to attend.

In the US, worshipers of all denominations were urged to comply with COVID-related capacity restrictions in places of worship, to observe online services, and to take social distancing and mask-wearing precautions in outdoor ceremonies.

The First Baptist Church congregation in Medford, Wisconsin, conducted elegant, low-key, and socially detached interior services that were broadcast live.

George Myers, pastor of student ministries, focused his attention on the last thing Jesus said on the cross: “It is finished.” Those words were not referring to His death, but rather His completion of the work He was sent to do, Myers said.

“So FBC, don’t miss this. This is the moment when Jesus lifted the curse of sin and the curse of death, ”Myers assured his parishioners.

At St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Denver, face-masked celebrants staged an elaborate outdoor reenactment of the Stations of the Cross with Roman soldiers on horseback and bystanders taunting onlookers using fake leather whips over a condemned Jesus Christ carrying a cross. Police officers escorted the procession through the neighborhood as church workers handed out masks to those who did not wear them among the crowd of onlookers.

In New York, Archbishop Timothy Dolan presided over a Celebration of the Lord’s Passion at St. Patrick’s Cathedral that was attended by clergy and faithful wearing masks. That service, an evening Stations of the Cross ceremony, and a reflection on the passion and death of Christ were broadcast on the Catholic Channel on Sirius XM and live on the cathedral’s YouTube channel and website.

“We may be separated by distance, but we are united in faith,” the archdiocese said in its invitation to the Holy Week celebrations.

In France, a 7 p.m. curfew across the country forced parishes to advance Good Friday ceremonies during the day, traditional Catholic night processions were drastically reduced or canceled. Nineteen departments in France have localized locks, where parishioners can attend daytime mass if they sign the government’s “travel certificate.”

Notre Dame, devastated by fire, did not celebrate a Good Friday Mass this year, but the cathedral’s clergy were venerating the cathedral’s “Crown of Thorns” at its new temporary liturgical center in the nearby Saint-Germain church. l’Auxerrois.

In Spain, there were no traditional processions for the second year in a row. The churches limited the number of faithful. Many parishes went online with Mass and prayers through video streaming services.

In the Philippines, the streets were eerily quiet and religious gatherings were prohibited in the capital, Manila, and in four outlying provinces. The government put the bustling region of more than 25 million people under lockdown again this week as it scrambled to contain an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases.

The Philippines had started to reopen in hopes of spicing up its suffering economy, but infections spiked last month, apparently due to more contagious strains, increased public mobility and complacency.

In Kenya, all churches were ordered closed as part of a ban on large gatherings to contain a worsening outbreak. Joseph Karinga went to his church anyway and prayed outside the closed doors, in a garden near a shrine to Mary.

“I will pray my rosary here and go home,” he said.


D’Emilio reported from Rome. Associated Press writers Zeina Karam in Beirut, Nicole Winfield in Rome, Thomas Adamson in Leeds, England, Aritz Parra in Madrid, David Zalubowski in Denver, and Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines contributed.


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