Churches get creative as parishioners stay home amid coronavirus pandemic

Father Joachim Giesler holding mass on Palm Sunday at his church in the German city of Achern. He had pasted pictures of his parishioners on empty pews. It was such a hit with the homebound parishioners that Father Giesler will do it again on Easter
Father Joachim Giesler holding mass on Palm Sunday at his church in the German city of Achern. He had pasted pictures of his parishioners on empty pews. It was such a hit with the homebound parishioners that Father Giesler will do it again on Easter Sunday. PHOTO: REUTERS

VATICAN CITY • A Catholic priest in rural coastal Ireland delivered socially-distanced blessings from a moving vintage popemobile.

Another in Germany taped pictures of his parishioners to empty pews and televised his mass.

With many churches closed or affected by the coronavirus lockdown, Christians of various denominations around the world have come up with novel ways to keep the faith during Holy Week.

Pope Francis, leader of the world's 1.3 billion Roman Catholics, has been, as he put it, "caged" in the Vatican. He has been encouraging his flock via scaled-down Holy Week services transmitted live on television and online.

Most of them have been held in an empty St Peter's Basilica, which can hold up to 10,000 people, and an empty St Peter's Square, which usually draws more than 100,000.

Holy Week - which encompasses Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday - is the most solemn period in the Christian liturgical calendar.

"We have to respond to our confinement with all our creativity," the 83-year-old pontiff said in an interview published by several Catholic newspapers this week.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Vatican's apostolic administrator in the Holy Land, said: "We are celebrating Good Friday, the commemoration of the death of Jesus, under very difficult circumstances." He was speaking outside Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre, revered as the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection. Only a few clerics were allowed inside the church for what otherwise would have been a packed service.

Still, many pastors around the world have not allowed the virus crisis to dampen the hope inherent in the Easter message of life triumphing over death.

Since his parishioners could not come to him, Irish priest Malachy Conlon geared up - literally - and went to them on Holy Thursday.

He drove an open-top popemobile once used by Pope John Paul II around the north-eastern coastal villages, blessing from a safe distance people who gathered on the side of the road as he passed.

On Palm Sunday in the German city of Achern, Father Joachim Giesler pasted pictures of his parishioners on empty pews and said mass for a few people, including a television crew. It was such a hit with the homebound parishioners that Father Giesler will do it again on Easter Sunday.

 
 
 

The scale of the unfolding coronavirus tragedy has seen a New York City cathedral replace rows of wooden seats with hospital beds in case of overcrowding in surrounding emergency wards.

Meanwhile, Westminster Abbey in London is following the technological trend by releasing Easter podcasts for the faithful of the Anglican Church.

Prince Charles - the heir to the British throne who was briefly quarantined last month after testing positive for Covid-19 - has recorded a reading of the Gospel for Easter Sunday.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2020, with the headline 'Churches get creative as parishioners stay home'. Subscribe