Easter is unfolding amongst the faithful, who, sitting six feet apart in pews around the world, are singing “Hallelujah” through masks, a race for the vaccine, and nearly 3 million deaths worldwide. Though 200 of the United States’ 328 million residents will be vaccinated within President Biden’s First 100 Days, the rest of the world is sorely lagging behind.
In fact, the more contagious UK variant known as B.I.I.7 is now the dominant strain in the European Union, triggering new lockdowns in the world’s largest economy. France, for instance, is reeling from a frightful uptick in COVID-19 cases that are overtaking already strained hospitals. The Cathedral Notre Dame held their traditional midnight Easter services just before dawn this year (instead of the traditional Saturday night) due to a nationwide 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.
From St. Peters Basilica to Paris, Salt Lake City and beyond, worshippers throughout the world are following various national and/or local regulations aimed at preventing the transmission of the coronavirus. While their numbers are fewer than ever before, those who remain are among a valiant few.
Though many governors and mayors urged the faithful to stay home and watch Mass on YouTube, Pope Francis said, “May the joy of Easter extend to the whole world.” Yet the 200 or so faithful who were allowed to attend this year’s Easter Mass at the Vatican looked somehow lost in the cavernous cathedral where more than 100,000 usually assemble to receive the pope’s special Easter blessing.
Intent on tamping down weeks of surging infections, and curtailing Italy’s 110,000 deaths, the Italian government ordered people to stay home during the three-day weekend with one concession. Those who were vaccinated were free to gather and worship, and a hospital in the Lombardy region of Italy was particularly inspiring. They gave a traditional dove-shaped Easter cake (symbolizing peace) to each person who lined up to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Most were in their 80s, accompanied by their adult children, reminding us of the circle and the miracle of life.
The Holy Land
In Jerusalem, air travel restrictions and quarantine regulations prevented foreign pilgrims from flocking to religious sites during Holy Week. However, Easter services played out rather normally in the Holy Land that claims their nearing the COVID endgame. At the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Patriarch Pierbattista conducted Mass in the Old City as usual; where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead.
Israel has launched one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns, allowing the country to reopen restaurants, hotels and religious sites. Over 60% of Israel’s 9 million residents have been vaccinated, ostensibly leading the world in vaccinations.
The Far East
South Korea’s Yoido Full Gospel Church, the biggest Protestant church in the country, allowed only about 2,000 church members to attend Easter service, or about 17% of the capacity of church’s main building. Masked church members sang hymns and prayed as the service was broadcast online and TV. Seoul’s Myeongdong Catholic Cathedral, the biggest Catholic church in South Korea, limited Mass attendance to 20% capacity and livestreamed the Easter service on YouTube.
Hope, Renewal, New Life
Only 1 of every 10 houses of worship are open as normal this Easter, and, according to the Pew Research Center, less than 50 percent of Americans now subscribe to a Christian faith. In fact, the pandemic has further frustrated already declining Christian worship practices to its lowest point in American history.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released its 2021 Easter message Thursday celebrating the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Through the Savior’s Atonement, resurrection and immortality became a reality for all” the statement read in part, reminding nearly 17 million members of their maxim of eternal life.
Though their growth rate of 1.21% in 2019 was the lowest since 1937, LDS parishioners like Mary B. Ashworth of Highland Utah have gone digital. Ashworth’s masterful arrangements entitled “Easter Hymns” are available on Amazon and invite young artists and new to re-consider the classics. “He is Risen” is a particular favorite, and LDS President Russell M. Nelson’s Easter message reminds us of a poignant mission. “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”
It’s a timely message for a trying time when over 131 million people throughout the world have been infected by the coronavirus pandemic. “We pray that these restrictions, as well as all restrictions on freedom of worship and religion worldwide, may be lifted and everyone be allowed to pray and praise God freely,″ Pope Francis prayed at the Vatican today. Until then, may the digital warriors of all faiths continue to lead that crusade.