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 Face Time and Zoom rather than around a communal table laden with an Easter feast on April 12.
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.
In Venezuela, Catholic officials said that after the Holy Week liturgies, some priests would try to take the Blessed Sacrament — the wine and bread of Holy Communion — on a vehicle and, using loudspeakers, invite congregants to join in spirit from their windows and balconies.
A similar used of priest-carrying vehicles was proposed in the Philippines, Asia’s bastion of Catholicism.
In Brazil, the world’s biggest Catholic country, Rio de Janeiro’s huge Christ the Redeemer statue has been closed indefinitely. Large Holy Week gatherings are banned in several states after a federal court overruled a decree by President Jair Bolsonaro exempting religious services from quarantine measures.
Many faithful across Latin America say they’ll miss Holy Week’s observances, yet there is acceptance of the cancellations.