New Delhi [India], April 3 (ANI): The holy day of Easter is celebrated with joy and pride by Christians all over the world and is considered one of the most auspicious days for the community. It marks Jesus Christ's resurrection. As mentioned in the Bible, Christ was crucified on the day of Good Friday and buried in a grave after his last supper which is commemorated as Maundy Thursday. However, on the third day when his disciples visited his grave, they found that the grave was empty. The day marks the triumph of Christ over death and this also makes him the 'Son of God'. The day is celebrated with pomp and grandeur every year.
However, amid the throes of the coronavirus pandemic, just like other festivals, this year's Easter celebration will be slightly lacklustre and is taking a virtual turn-- as it is being celebrated for the second time under the Covid shadow.
ANI spoke with Church authorities and people who are celebrating Easter across the country, and how the commemoration is different this year amid the pandemic.
The Sacred Heart Cathedral, one of the oldest churches in the national capital, which typically draws thousands of people for its Easter week services, had just 25 to 30 per cent of the worshippers allowed into the church. Father Lawrence, Parish priest, Sacred Heart Cathedral said, "The number of people visiting the church has been restricted for Easter this year as well. The services will be held at 30 per cent capacity of the church. Senior citizens have been advised to avoid visiting the church.
"On Good Friday many people used to come, but this year due to COVID-19, the number of people were restricted. The number of people visiting the church has been restricted for Easter this year as well. The services will be held at 30 per cent capacity of the church. Senior citizens have been advised to avoid visiting the church," he added.
With regards to the Holy Week, Archdiocese of Bombay, Oswald Cardinal Gracias in a video message said, "We have been observing the standard operation procedure for Easter celebration. We have been sticking to the number which is 50 (only 50 people allowed), social distancing, wearing of masks and the provision of the sanitisation of hands. The govt circular encourages us to do online streaming of services and multiple masses. The confessions are also fixed before and after the mass specifically."
Ryan Biem, who is a resident of Mumbai shared that celebrating Easter on 'video chat' with the closed ones is what he is going to do this year.
"Easter is usually celebrated by offering Easter eggs (chocolate eggs) and some wine to cheer the hearts. Although due to Covid meeting and celebrating is not possible, technology has created an alternative "Video chat"... Believe me just watching your loved ones on camera and having a few drinks makes Easter delightful," he said.
Rhea Serrao talked about how the celebrations are different amid pandemic and said, "People can physically join in the celebration of the Easter mass as compared to last time where there was a complete lockdown, and they now can visit their families which wasn't an option last year. The masses will be streamed online for those who cannot make it to the church and they will receive holy blessings from their homes.
Rajitha Akhil, who is a resident of Delhi and a homemaker shared that amid the current situation, there is a lot more difference in the celebrations as compared to previous years.
Sharing what has been the major differences in Easter celebration due to the coronavirus pandemic, Rajitha said, "This year, gatherings are just limited to one mass a day. Many people have even avoided attending the gatherings in churches due to the current situation."
"My in-laws who are elderly and my 5-month-old daughter, and many like them are also not visiting the church on the festival. We have Zoom meetings on which people can attend the mass and celebrate by experience the cathedral's atmosphere at home," she added.
Rajitha said COVID-19 protocols have been put in place for the safety of people. "Even the church seating is limited, and LEDs are placed outside so that people can take part in the prayers. Changes have also been made in the arrangements that includes sanitisation and the social distancing norms," she said.
Eva Nikhil Stephen, a Delhiite shared how the Easter celebration is different this year, "People are celebrating the festival through Zoom app, the Pastor recites prayers on behalf of people, and the video is streamed to the devout willing the receive blessings of God. Even if someone visits the church, there is a temperature check and sanitisation process which is a mandate. After entering the church, only two or three people are allowed to be seated on a bench, in line with the social distancing norm."
"Earlier there were small 'cottage prayer meetings' in which Christians used to gather for small prayer meetings in the local neighbourhood, and now after COVID-19 came into existence all the cottage and small meetings have been stopped. The devotees are provided with the links to Zoom app to attend prayer meets."
Father Walter De Sa, Parish Priest, Immaculate Church, Panjim, spoke to ANI about the standard safety procedure and said, "We have to abide by SOPs and guidelines given by the Church and our capacity will be limited, but we have increased the number of masses. The temperature and phone number of people attending mass will be taken and the church will also be sanitised. The distribution of refreshments will also not be done."
"We have increased the number of masses so that we cover up the entire Parish congregation. In this manner we are reaching out to them. As they enter the church, we are taking their temperature, and the phone number will be recorded post which they will go through the sanitisation process. Thereafter, when the ceremony is over, the process of sanitation and cleaning will be carried out so that it is safe for people to attend the church for further masses. The chairs and seating are arranged in a way to maintain social distancing, also there is a specific exit to walk out of the cathedral."
Sharing that the people are cooperative amid the difficult situation, he said, "The devotees are following the directions by the volunteers to maintain the safety. Also, there are LED screens installed outside the cathedral so that people can attend this holy celebration."
In Kerala, on Easter, a special mass is held across but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be a limited affair. Midnight mass is held in Churches which are led by senior Christian priests and bishops where they give Easter Message to the faithful. In a bid for crowd control during COVID-19 some of the leading churches are also conducting live streaming of special service on Easter Sunday.
Dr Very Rev. Magr. Nicholas Tharsiuse, Parish Priest, St Joseph Cathedral, Palayam, Thiruvananthapuram said that "It is a holy week and it's also time for prayers and reconnecting with God. It is a collective decision to take care of the country, to follow Covid protocols and this is happening all around the globe. Because of the current pandemic situation, we need to follow safety measures. There is a drive for vaccination within the church."
"The prayers and other celebrations will be a little dull around this time, as it was last year. We should focus more on prayers and towards saving the world from the pandemic. As Jesus himself followed the Roman law, and the law of the land and people should also follow the protocols established by the local authorities for safety."
Talking about changes observed this year in the Easter celebration Tharsiuse added, "The easter celebration and prayers will be conducted by keeping COVID-19 protocols in mind."
Rony Samuel, resident of Trivandrum, Kerala, shared how the celebrations this year are somewhat parallel to the festivities of last year. He said, "Celebration will be there definitely but at a smaller scale than usual. This is now the second Easter during Covid times. So, in a way, I and my family have got used to this new reality. But unlike last time, we will be paying a visit to Church for a prayer followed by a lunch within the confines of the four walls of the home."
"What's lacking in usual Easter fervour in Church and trips will hopefully be made good by a grandiose lunch at home. Luckily this time, the entire family will be together unlike last year's Easter and more importantly time spend together in these testing times for the country and the world. Hopefully next year, vaccines would be widely available and Covid would have been something from a distant memory." added Samuel.
Dona Maria Tojo, a local from Kannur, Kerala shared how she is going to make it up for last year's celebration, which was there in the lockdown.
She said, "Amidst all the Covid situation we decided we are going celebrate this Easter and also make up for the last lockdown Easter. This time it's a bit more special since I have my cousins with me. Apart from the church ceremonies and prayers at home, we are really having a lot of fun. After 40 days of Lent, Easter is the day we are going to have non-veg dishes. So, from Saturday morning the cooking, shopping and the midnight celebrations will be in order."
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to grapple the world, on the pious occasion of Easter Sunday, Christians are gearing up to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ with hopes to observe a pandemic-free world soon, and praying for the good health and prosperity of fellow brothers and sisters. (ANI)