Christians around the globe celebrated Holy Week in face masks and observing social distance guidelines as the coronavirus pandemic dramatically altered the sacred Easter season for a second straight year.
In places with ongoing concerns about the spread of the virus, which has killed nearly 3 million people worldwide, state-mandated lockdowns meant empty or virtually empty celebrations where people normally would gather en masse.
In the Vatican, Pope Francis presided over the Via Crucis or Way of the Cross ceremony in a barren St. Peter’s Square. In Quezon City, the Philippines, roads and churches were deserted on Good Friday after religious gatherings were prohibited in metropolitan Manila and four outlying provinces.
But in Israel, which has implemented one of the world’s most aggressive vaccination programs, many public places including religious sites have been allowed to reopen. On Palm Sunday, nuns indulged in a wide-grinning group selfie — masks down — on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, a year after coronavirus put a halt to all mass gatherings.
Warming temperatures with the onset of the Northern Hemisphere spring made outdoor services an attractive option for many.
At beaches in New Jersey and Los Angeles, people greeted the dawn in sandy Easter sunrise services. On the lawn of a Pennsylvania church burial grounds, and in the shadow of palm trees at a Las Vegas mortuary and cemetery, parishioners seated in folding chairs took communion and prayed. And in the main square of Transylvania, Romania, Roman Catholics stood in long rows spaced 6 feet from each other waiting for their Easter baskets to be blessed.
Plenty of celebrations were held remotely due to health concerns, such as a Passion Play staged on a rooftop in a poor neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro on Good Friday for residents to watch either via livestreaming or from their balconies.
Where services did take place indoors, pastors and parishioners were often careful to maintain a safe separation, and disinfecting measures were taken in at least some houses of worship. In a church in downtown Madrid, women wearing traditional veils known as “mantillas” prayed in socially distanced pews.
It was a muted Easter season in Spain, with Holy Week processions again canceled by authorities. Emblematic of a pandemic-altered world, a shop in the southern city of Seville was selling cloth face masks emblazoned with the images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
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