For many Christians, Easter Sunday on April 12 looks to be a little bit different this year.
Countries with large Christian populations – such as Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom – are urging their citizens to stay home over concerns that holiday gatherings could increase transmission of the virus.
Pope Francis, likely the most well-known Christian leader in the world, will preside over the yearly celebrations in the Vatican without the public being present, instead using the Internet to reach millions of Catholics around the world.
In Australia, the country’s Department of Home Affairs posted on its website that “Australia’s fight against COVID-19 is a marathon, not a sprint.”
“We are all in this together, and our willingness to stay home, stay safe and support one another has put our country in a strong position. But our progress could be undone very quickly if even a small number of people ignore the rules,” the post reads.
Many mosques have been empty for weeks. The Grand Mosque at Mecca in Saudi Arabia and other important religious sites in the country have been closed since the government in Riyadh suspended daily prayers on March 19.
In Indonesia, a country in Southeast Asia with the largest Muslim population in the world, religious gatherings ended abruptly after the government in the capital of Jakarta tightened restrictions on public gatherings due to the virus on April 10.
Jakarta is home to some 30 million people, and the government worries that any new outbreaks of COVID-19 could lead to runaway transmission.
“I know this policy is hard enough to carry out,” said Anies Baswedan, the Governor of Jakarta, “but this was made to save lives and break the chain of coronavirus transmission.”
Some worshippers disagree
Some worshippers, however, disagree with strict restrictions on their religious practices, even during a global pandemic. In their perspective, faith and tradition are all the more important to keep up during times of uncertainty.
Muslims in Pakistan have pushed back against suggestions that mosques close their doors during the outbreak.
“I offered prayers in the mosque on Friday. More than 300 people were in attendance and it looked like a routine Friday prayer,” said Muhammad Ashraf, a shop owner from Islamabad.
“The mosque is a safe place. I don’t fear coronavirus,” he added.
While some worshippers in the United States feel that religious gatherings should take priority, others emphasized the need to follow government guidelines.
“Different churches have stayed open for different reasons,” said Nathan Empsall, an Episcopal priest and campaign director for the Christian group Faithful America.
But, Empsall added, “the best way to love our neighbors is to do so from a distance right now.”