Easter Sunday is one of the most important days on the Christian calendar, a normally joyous occasion celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after his crucifixion. For most Australians, it is usually marked by some form of ritual: special church services, family gatherings, holiday plans, the passing out of chocolate. Like so much that brings people together, COVID-19 will have its way in curtailing plans.
The message has been echoed by many: it is time to stay at home, to place consequence before want. For the faithful, it will be particularly difficult. The church offers a place of sanctitude when the burdens of life are heavy. While belief may be a personal relationship with a god, the act of worshipping is most often a collective experience. A congregation brings together the like-minded, side by side in prayer. For those of faith, Sunday is for rejoicing in the marvel of a higher being using life itself as a means to reveal himself as the son of God.
The recent image of Pope Francis delivering a blessing – Urbi et Orbi (To the city and the world) – in an empty Saint Peter’s Square offered a stark reminder of religious life in a pandemic. More than 11 million tuned in, but his solitude was its poignancy. Like sport without fans, a service without followers is a shallow reflection of the full experience. This week the Pope offered words of solace during this time: “Easter tells us that God can turn everything to good, and that with Him we can truly trust that all will be well.”
It has been weeks since Italy – enduring the world’s highest COVID-19 death toll – has opened its church doors for mass. The only exception enabled a few pilgrims to visit the shrine of Saint Rosalia, whose apparition is believed to have saved the southern Italian city of Palermo from a plague in 1625. Locals are hoping she will once again offer some reprieve. All faiths have had to curtail their activities, with religious gatherings having been a trigger in countries such as Malaysia and South Korea for widespread outbreaks of COVID-19.