Christians mark another pandemic Easter

VATICAN CITY (AP) – The most joyous holiday in Christianity was celebrated around the world with the faithful spread out on benches and singing “Hallelujah” choruses covering their faces on a second Easter Sunday marked by precautions against the pandemic.

From vast Catholic cathedrals to Protestant churches, the faithful followed regulations on the coronavirus. In some European countries, citizens lined up at Easter to receive their turn to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

In Italy’s Lombardy region, where the pandemic first broke out in the West, a hospital delivered a traditional dove-shaped Easter cake symbolizing peace to each person waiting to be vaccinated. Many of those who came were in their 80s.

A soccer team in Lyon, France, opened its stadium as a vaccination center for the long vacation weekend. Some 9,000 people were expected to receive their vaccinations there over three days as the French government tries to speed up vaccinations amid a new outbreak of infections.

In the Holy Land, travel restrictions and quarantine regulations prevented foreign pilgrims from flocking to Jerusalem’s religious sites during Holy Week, which culminates with the Easter celebrations. Pope Francis lamented that the pandemic has prevented some parishioners from attending services.

In St. Peter’s Basilica, the roughly 200 faithful who were allowed to attend seemed lost in the cavernous cathedral. Typically, thousands would be at the Mass celebrated by Francis, and more than 100,000 would sometimes gather outside in St. Peter’s Square to receive his Easter blessing afterward.

But this year, as in 2020, crowds are prohibited from gathering in Italy and the Vatican. Francis delivered his Easter address at noon on world affairs from inside the basilica, taking advantage of the occasion to make a new appeal for vaccines to reach the poorest countries.

The pontiff sounded weary as he noted that the pandemic measures have affected religious traditions and kept some faithful away from public worship.

“We pray that these restrictions, as well as all restrictions on freedom of worship and religion around the world, can be lifted and that everyone can freely pray and praise God,” Francis said.

In Syria, where a national vaccination program has yet to begin, parishioners of the Church of the Lady of Damascus prayed for a way out of the economic and political crisis, only exacerbated by the pandemic.

“We came to church for Easter to get rid of the pandemic we are in,” Bassam Assaf said. “Of course, we are not afraid of the coronavirus. It is the reality we face, but it cannot prevent us from coming and praying to God to take us out of this trial and help the world. “

The high Catholic cleric of the Holy Land held a service at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City of Jerusalem. That is the site where many Christians believe that Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead. Israel’s successful vaccination campaign has allowed many places to reopen, including religious sites.

The pandemic prevented the Brotherhood of the Holy Resurrection of Seville from sending its ornate Easter float, with an imposing statue of Jesus, through the streets of the Spanish city. Instead, the Brotherhood published old videos and photos of its last procession, two years ago.

Some Pentecostal Christians in South Africa canceled a three-day retreat starting on Good Friday. In the hills overlooking Soweto, a Johannesburg township, Apostolic Pentecostals gathered in small groups on Sunday to mark Easter.

In South Korea, Yoido Full Gospel Church, the largest Protestant church in the country, allowed only about 2,000 people to attend the Easter service, or about 17% of the main building’s capacity. Masked worshipers sang hymns and prayed as the service was broadcast online and on Christian television channels.

In an effort to reduce weeks of infections, the Italian government ordered people to stay home for the three-day weekend except for essential errands. The government of Prime Minister Mario Draghi allowed a daily visit to family or friends in the residents’ home regions during the weekend, which includes the national holiday on Monday.

Italy allows religious services during the pandemic if capacity is limited and masks are worn. But in the beginning, many churches in the predominantly Roman Catholic country were open only for individual prayer.

Hundreds of Catholics gathered at the gigantic St. Paul’s Cathedral in St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Easter Vigil service on Saturday night. All other benches were kept empty and masks were mandatory. However, the solemn liturgy marked a hopeful new beginning for the congregation after a turbulent year.

After the fully virtual Easter services last year, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City was at half capacity for Sunday Mass. The faithful were spread out in the vaulted neo-Gothic cathedral, which seats more than 2,000. The choir sang through masks.

In Detroit, Hartford Memorial Baptist Church opened its doors for in-person Easter services for the first time in more than a year, with capacity limits and social distancing rules in place. The Rev. Charles Christian Adams told the Detroit Free Press that people need a church, especially after the congregation lost at least 14 members to COVID-19.

In Florida, the Eastgate Christian Fellowship in Panama City Beach hosted its annual sunrise service on the beach. The church had to cancel the service last year because all the beaches were closed. Pastor Janelle Green estimated that about 400 people participated.

Robin Fox of Palm Bay planned to spend Sunday driving his mother to Orlando to receive a second dose of vaccine at a Federal Emergency Management Agency site.

“She gets that freedom the same day (people go to) church to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, so I said (to her), ‘It’s like you’re resurrecting too,’” Fox said.


AP reporters from around the world contributed.


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