Coming together, Apart: Religious Festivals in Lockdown

Many religious leaders have found new ways to celebrate relgious festivals as the COVID-19 epidemic has put pressure of observance around the world.

With Easter, Passover and Ramadan commencing, people of faith have been reminded to follow government advice and to celebrate at home. As the good weather is set to continue, religious leaders have been exploring new ways of delivering their sermons online, in an effort to persuade people not to visit loved-ones during religious celebrations. 

Temperatures peaked at 25°C over last weekend, usually enjoyed by families and friends coming together on Easter Sunday. This year, whilst churches remained closed, the Archbishop of Canterbury live streamed the service from his kitchen in his flat in London. “Our towns are closed, but our hearts are open”, said Justin Welby. Typically, the Archbishop’s service would be attended by 1500 people at Canterbury Cathedral. 

“Jerusalem’s streets, typically crowded with pilgrims paying a visit at Easter, were empty” 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock wished everyone a Happy Easter and thanked those working from home and for the NHS. The Easter weekend recorded the number of coronavirus-related deaths in the UK at 10,000. Speaking at the daily briefing, Mr Hancock paid tribute to those who had lost their lives, and said that people had been listening to government orders to stay at home during the Easter weekend. 

Prayers were offered to COVID-19 victims as Pope Francis delivered his Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the word) message behind the doors of the Vatican and liturgies were live streamed across the world. Jerusalem’s streets, typically crowded with pilgrims paying a visit at Easter, were empty. 

Last Wednesday also marked the start of the Jewish Passover. The eight day festival started on April 8th and ran through to April 16th. The Passover tradition includes the Seder observed on the first two nights of the holiday. This year, the Jewish community across the world tried recreating Passover rituals during the lockdown. Seders, usually performed with close relatives, were conducted virtually, through apps such as Zoom and FaceTime. 

Chief Rabbi Mirvis addressed the Jewish community, asking people to act with ‘responsibility and abide by the regulations issued by the Government’. He added that despite the global implications and consequence of the virus, he urged people to be positive, and reminded them that “this too will pass…”

“The physicality of churches, synagogues and mosques are no longer at the centre of the celebration, but the community spirit still remains strong.”

For the 3 million Muslims in Britain, the holy month of Ramadan is due to commence next week, and typically preparations would be underway. During Ramadan, people traditionally gather together to break their fasts with family and friends, and Tarawih prayers are held at mosques every evening. However this year, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) told The Times that it was ‘imperative’ that Muslims observe the holy month ‘very differently’.   The MCB have encouraged people to have a remote Ramadan, and engage spiritually with the holy month at home.

Families that typically stock up for the month are no longer able to do so. OpenIftar is the UK’s largest community event during Ramadan and holds events for over 100,000 Muslims and members of the wider community to join together in the breaking of their fast. This year, the OpenIftar has announced an initiative to encourage people to do the opposite and stay at home, by delivering an Iftar package through the post. The Muslim community are preparing for a Ramadan very different to usual. 

Covid-19 is testing all faiths and has interrupted religious tradition. For followers, these changes have spiritually brought people together to celebrate in a different manner. The physicality of churches, synagogues and mosques are no longer at the centre of the celebration, but the community spirit still remains strong.

Safa Shahid 

Featured image courtesy of Gianrico Lombardi via Flickr. No changes made to this image. Image license found here.

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