Nfld. & Labrador

Suspended prayers: How faith communities are adapting to the pandemic

Technology is helping various faith groups keep members connected, while a public health emergency remains in effect.

Technology helps faith groups keep their members connected

Syed Pirzada is the president of the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Religious holidays like Easter, Passover, Eid, and festivals for the Hindu community may look very different this year, as religious groups adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under its public health emergency, Newfoundland and Labrador has restricted public gatherings to 10 people, and that applies to houses of worship.

Christian denominations — which represent the majority of religious residents of Newfoundland and Labrador — have moved to streaming services and alternative ways of allowing people to worship.

Other faiths are making changes too.

For instance, for the 3,000 Muslims in the community, daily prayer has been suspended at the mosque in St. John's due to the pandemic.

Syed Pirzada, president of the Muslim Assocation of Newfoundland Labrador, says Ramadan, a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset, is coming up in mid-April.

Eid al-Fitr is celebrated in May once Ramadan ends. That celebration has been so widely attended that in the past prayers have been moved from the mosque to the Jack Byrne Arena in Torbay.

"That's going to be a big challenge, you know," said Pirzada.

Pirzada says they're looking to Muslim communities around the world to see how they're adapting and discussing the pandemic with scholars.

"In our faith, if there are difficult times, there is room for change," said Pirzada.

Pirzada says he's thankful no weddings or funerals are planned.

'We'll get through this'

The province's small Jewish community is also trying to adapt to the pandemic.

Steven Wolinetz, past-president of the Jewish Community Havura, says members are improvising when it comes to their biweekly observances.

Steve Wolinetz says the video-conferencing app Zoom will help members of the Jewish community stay connected. (Paul Pickett/CBC)

He says they normally hold a Shabbat every other Friday, followed by a potluck. Instead, they're going to use a video-conferencing app to connect with one another.

"We're going to experiment with a small number of people using Zoom," said Wolinetz.

Passover, a major Jewish holiday, starts April 8. Wolinetz said they will also use Zoom to connect with people while they stay at home and practise physical distancing.

They've also decided to postpone the Holocaust memorial in May to Holocaust Education Week in November.

"If you look at it from the perspective of Jewish people, we have been through a lot," said Wolinetz.  "So yeah, we'll get through this." 

Technology steps in

Meanwhile, the Hindu Temple in St. John's first closed its doors to mass gatherings on Feb. 28, ahead of the pandemic being declared.

"I think people who are planning for weddings or whatnot, I think they knew from this message, they haven't approached us to conduct weddings any time soon," said Jai Ragunathan, a director of the Hindu Temple.

Jai Ragunathan says many festivals — like the festival of light and the festival of colour — are held at the temple almost every month.

Those can't happen now, so technology is being used to connect.

"We have a dance teacher now, doing it remotely, using technology teaching the kids the dance classes," said Ragunathan.

Instead of holding gatherings for large groups, Ragunathan said families will now take turns on Sundays to worship and light a lamp.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

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