Politics

Keeping the faith during the COVID-19 pandemic — by praying at home and staying connected online

While Canada’s chief public health officer has warned all upcoming religious festivals and holidays should be celebrated “virtually,” it appears many organized religions have already taken steps to keep their congregations safe during the coronavirus outbreak. 

Many churches, synagogues, mosques and temples offering virtual services

Almost all religious institutions in Canada have closed their doors to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Some are offering virtual services, while others are encouraging followers to pray at home. (Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)

While Canada's chief public health officer has warned that all upcoming religious festivals and holidays should be celebrated "virtually," it appears many organized religions have already taken steps to keep their congregations safe during the coronavirus outbreak. 

"Some important religious observances are coming up including Easter, Passover, Vaisakhi, Ramadan," Dr. Theresa Tam said at her daily news conference Monday. "Now is the time when assembly needs to happen virtually. Prepare ahead to connect through social media and over the phone and internet."

In Canada, the Catholic Church is governed at the archdiocese level and each has been tasked with interpreting instructions from the Vatican, in accordance with local and provincial health guidance. 

Catholic churches, like many other houses of worship in the country, are closed for services. This Easter, that means Catholics should check with their local churches to see what events will be broadcast online or on television. 

The Ottawa Archdiocese will be recording Easter mass and broadcasting it live through its website and YouTube channel. It will also be available as a replay. 

According to Father Daniel Van Delst, the chancellor of the archdiocese of Ottawa, the Vatican has said services for Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Saturday of the Easter weekend (April 9, 10 and 11) must be held in private. 

Catholics who want to follow those events can do so virtually, providing they are willing to watch them live. While the Vatican has said that Easter mass can be rebroadcast, the Ottawa Archdiocese is interpreting Rome's direction to mean that the same should not be the case for other Easter events. 

Van Delst said each archdiocese may interpret the Vatican's directions differently. Followers should consult the websites of their local churches. 

Synagogues closed for Passover

Ottawa's Rabbi Reuven Bulka explained that synagogue doors have been closed for some time. Like the Archdiocese of Ottawa, the Machzikei Hadas congregation in Ottawa is following the advice of public health officials and the province on when to reopen its doors. 

"The Passover experience on both the Wednesday night and Thursday night [April 8-9] is usually been a family time when people get together: parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren. But obviously because of the circumstances this year, lots and lots of people are going to be alone," Bulka told CBC News. 

"They are going to be doing that Passover ritual on their own this year."

Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Dr Theresa Tam spoke with reporters on Parliament Hill on Monday 0:19

Bulka and Archbishop Terrence Prendergast will meet in the parking lot of the Machzikei Hadas Synagogue in Ottawa, Tuesday, Mar. 31 at 3 p.m. ET, to give a joint prayer that will be broadcast on the synagogue's Facebook page. There will be no audience. 

Virtual sermons for Ramadan

According to the Canada Council of Imams, mosques in Canada are also taking their lead from health officials and their provincial governments, and will remain closed during Ramadan. 

Evening prayers during the month of Ramadan, which starts April 23, will be cancelled and Muslims will be asked to pray at home instead, said Abdul Hai Patel, director of inter-faith relations for the Canadian Council of Imams.

"Some Imams are giving virtual sermons on Fridays, but there are no virtual prayers," Patel told CBC News. "Those have to be given in person."  

Muslims wishing to know what is offered at their mosque are asked to check social media, the mosque's website or their local Muslim association. 

Other religious organizations, including the Anglican Church of Canada, have also closed their doors and are offering a variety of ways for parishioners to stay connected online through Easter. 

This year, Archbishop Linda Nicholls will join Bishop Susan Bell in Hamilton for an Easter morning service that will be livestreamed on the Facebook pages of the Diocese of Niagara and the Anglican Church of Canada.

Followers of Hinduism and Sikhism looking forward to celebrating Vaisakhi, a holiday that marks the new year for both faiths and and also the birth of the Sikh faith, should check in with their local gurdwaras and temples — many of which have been offering virtual services through social media and their websites for days and weeks.

For Sikhs, Vaisakhi is a major event on the religious calendar. Sikhs celebrate by going to gurdwaras, Sikh places of worship, but the most visible celebrations are the Khalsa Day parades. The parade in Surrey, B.C., attracts almost 500,000 and Toronto's draws crowds of more than 100,000, according to the World Sikh Organization of Canada. 

This year, all gurdwaras in Canada have been closed, and parades have been cancelled. In lieu of in-person programs, Sikhs can connect with one another through a number of different live streamed programs from gurdwaras around the world. 

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