By Elliot Rhodes
April 9, 2020
Chinese Catholics attend a Christmas Eve Mass at the Xishiku Catholic Church, also known as the North Church, in Beijing on December 24, 2013. Photo: AFP
Religious communities across the world are keen on curtailing the spread of the coronavirus that causes the potentially deadly respiratory disease Covid-19. The virus is sweeping across the world and affecting people of all faiths. Religious leaders and their followers have an obligation to take measures to mitigate the dangers that huge gatherings could pose in aiding the further spread of the virus.
One of the precautions that religious leaders are taking is asking followers to refrain from the traditional handshakes and to wash their hands, using soap and water, as regularly as they can. Catholics, for example, are opting to bow to those in neighbouring pews as opposed to shaking their hands. Here are six more ways through which religious communities are adapting to the threat.
Baptism Routine Has Changed
Baptism is a vital Catholic religious practice. Traditionally, priests receive babies from their parents, and then immerse the baby in holy water. But now with the virus threat, priests are advised not to touch babies’ foreheads, so as to minimize physical contact.
Ban On Hajj Pilgrimage
The Covid-10 outbreak has disrupted Islamic traditions all over the world. In the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia, Muslim faithful have been advised against performing religious functions that necessitate huge gatherings. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia also banned international visitors from making the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Iran, meanwhile, has cancelled Friday prayers in all its mosques in major cities.
The Saudi move to ban foreigners from visiting Mecca and Medina is likely to halt plans for millions of pilgrims who probably hoped to travel to the kingdom ahead of the fasting month of Ramadan later this year. However, foreigners who had booked their Saudi Arabia eVisa before the February 27 announcement could still have a faint chance of visiting the kingdom. The Saudi authorities have announced that people already in the country are free to visit Mecca’s Grand Mosque.
Unsurprisingly, very small crowds have been witnessed in recent times around the black, cube-shaped Kaaba at Mecca’s Grand Mosque. The faithful appear to be wary of the increased risk of spreading the virus in such highly crowded places.
Catholic churches across the world are reviewing how they carry out Mass in the wake of the increased risk. Priests are accustomed to placing the communion wafer on their congregants’ tongues. As a precaution, they are now being advised to place the communion wafer on believers’ hands. However, in some parts of the world, churches have been advised to close temporarily until the situation is alleviated. Also, the tradition of priests asking parishioners to shake hands and mingle with people within their neighborhood at the end of a Mass has been stopped given the circumstances.
Authorities in Hong Kong recently ordered the suspension of activities at the Fook Wai Ching She Buddhist temple. This came after a string of Covid-19 cases were linked to the temple.
Rabbis are advising the Jewish community to take precautions during upcoming festivals. Everyone was very cautious during the festival of Purim that went down last month. Traditionally, Jews exchange gifts of food and drinks, they wear masks and other costumes, and feast during festivals. These traditions are likely to be threatened by the spread of Covid-19 going forward.
The Holi celebrations have been cancelled given the latest surge in infections in India. This came as a preventive measure given the large number of people who attend these celebrations. Normally, these festivals bring together large gatherings, which is against the guidelines given by health experts. Authorities in India are strongly discouraging mass gatherings, especially in the heavily crowded urban centers.
If Covid-19 continues spreading at a high rate, most houses of worship will soon be closed down, or will at least modify their traditions. It is naive for any person of faith to wait upon God to protect him or her against this pandemic without taking the recommended safety precautions. It remains to be seen how different religions will react if the virus isn’t contained soon. They may have to keep making adjustments as the virus mutates.
Original Headline: How religious communities are coping with Covid-19
Source: Asia Times