Pope Francis celebrates the joy of Easter amid the pain of the coronavirus pandemic

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Vatican City – Pope Francis and Christians around the world celebrated a lonely Easter Sunday, forced to celebrate the happiest day of the liturgical calendar amid painful reminders of the devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Families who normally attended morning mass on their best Easter day and later joined friends for festive lunches, returned home. Police checkpoints and closed churches around the world have forced worshipers to watch Easter services online or on TV.

Some lucky Romans participated from their balconies overlooking the Santa Emerenziana church in the northern district of Trieste, where the priest celebrated an open-air mass on the roof.

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At the Vatican, Francis was transformed into a Saint Peter’s basilica for the mass largely empty, celebrated in front of a handful of symbolic faithful seated one by bench and with the hymn “Kyrie” of the choir echoing on the marble floors bare.

Vatican Easter virus epidemic
Few of the faithful attend Easter Sunday mass of Pope Francis in an empty St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican on Sunday, April 12, 2020.

Andreas Solaro / AP

Normally, Saint Peter’s Square would be flooded with fresh flowers for Easter, with tulips and orchids decorating the square’s promenade in a riot of colors to underline the message of life and rebirth of Easter after the crucifixion of Christ.

This year, however, the cobbled square was bare. Police barricades surrounded the square, blocking the tens of thousands of people who normally gather to hear Mass and the blessing of the Pope’s noon “Urbi et Orbi” and the blessing “for the city and the world”.

Francis instead celebrated mass inside the basilica, decorated with a few potted palms and white hydrangeas. Rather than appear on the loggia of the basilica to give his blessing, Francis had to speak in front of the tomb of Saint-Pierre, emphasizing the solitude which confronted all humanity in the midst of locking orders and quarantines to prevent a new contagion .

It was a scene repeated around the world, with churches closed or, for some still open for mass, forcing the faithful to practice social distancing. In South Korea, where an epidemic was linked to a sectarian sect, services were largely organized online.

A small number of masked worshipers attended the service at Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, one of the largest churches in South Korea. They were seated apart from each other, and the choir members sang hymns behind masks.

At the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, where many Christians believe that Jesus was crucified and buried, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa urged the faithful not to be discouraged.

“Despite the sign of death and the fear that we see all over the world, we have to look good at all those who give their lives for others,” he said.

Only a handful of clergy were on hand for mass, and the streets of the old town surrounding the church were empty of pilgrims and merchants.

“The Easter message is that life, despite everything, will prevail,” said Pizzaballa, the high Roman Catholic dignitary of the Holy Land.

Vatican Easter virus epidemic
Italian riflemen stand near a cross in an empty St. Peter’s Square in homage to Pope Francis while the Pope celebrated Easter Mass in an empty St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican on Sunday, April 12, 2020.

Andrew Medichini / AP

The Church of England closed its churches, prompting the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to celebrate Easter Sunday service from his kitchen in London. Spiritual leader of 85 million Anglicans around the world, Welby delivered his sermon in a long robe behind a makeshift altar on his dining table.

“Welcome to the kitchen of our house on Easter Day,” he said. “Once this epidemic has been overcome here and elsewhere, we cannot content ourselves with returning to what was before as if everything was normal. “

In New Zealand, Catholic bishops wrote a special pastoral letter to the faithful trapped at home, acknowledging the stress and uncertainty of this Easter like no other, but urging the faithful to comfort themselves as a family.

“This period has proven to be a period of reflection allowing us to refocus or revise ourselves and see how we live,” said the letter.

In Lebanon, which is home to the largest percentage of Christians in the Arab world, Cardinal Bechara Rai urged the faithful to respect the locking measures, which were imposed while Lebanon is going through its worst economic and financial crisis in decades.

“We pray that Lebanese officials will work together in a spirit of collaboration to revive Lebanon economically, financially and socially,” said Rai in an almost empty church in Bkerki, northeast of Beirut, headquarters of the city. Maronite church he leads.

The church was normally filled with people marking Easter, including the President, the Prime Minister and the Speaker.

For Orthodox Christians, this Sunday marked the start of Holy Week, with Palm Sunday services held in equally sterile churches.

Pope Tawadros II, the spiritual leader of Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Christians, celebrated in a largely empty monastery of Saint Pishoy, in a desert valley west of the capital, Cairo. The church has made the prayers available on its official Facebook page.

The Coptic Orthodox Church, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, earlier this month decided to suspend prayers and Easter celebrations in churches and monasteries to contain the spread of the virus.

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