In divergent Easter celebrations, prayers for virus victims

National

People gather at the Mount Davidson cross in San Francisco, Sunday, April 12, 2020. Mount Davidson’s annual Easter Sunrise Service was canceled for San Francisco’s shelter in place orders over coronavirus concers. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

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Christians around the world celebrated an Easter Sunday upended by the coronavirus without the usual crowded church Masses and large family gatherings. Instead, they turned to the internet, television and radio from home to follow services that noted the grave impact of the pandemic. Some found novel ways to mark the holy day. Others still assembled in groups, but took precautions to try to avoid infection.

The virus forced a change in Easter traditions that had even endured wars. Christians in the U.S. contended with a patchwork of limits on how and where they could gather to mark Jesus’ resurrection. Many states exempted houses of worship from orders curbing communal meetings to help stop the coronavirus from spreading. A few pastors said they would stay open to visitors despite pandemic-fighting guidelines.

But no matter how divergent the celebrations, the message from church leaders around the world remained consistent: prayers for the sick and dead and reassurances of God’s presence. Here’s a sample of Easter events from the U.S. and abroad:

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Parishioners from churches across New York City sang “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” from their balconies and windows as part of an initiative organized online.

“My husband and I went out on the balcony and we belted it out as loud as we could,” said Kathy Keller, of Reedemer Presbyterian Church, who helped launch the ‘Easter2020’ singing event.

Keller said people from across the U.S. sent her messages telling her they had joined the event, including a woman in Denver, Colorado who sang while snow fell outside her window.

“Even if you didn’t hear everyone, God heard everyone,” Keller said.

-By Luis Andres Henao

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In the central German city of Hildesheim, around 400 people participated in a drive-in Catholic Mass for Easter Sunday. People were allowed to take part if they stayed in their cars with the doors and windows closed, listening to the sermon over the radio.

Relevant Church in the U.S. state of South Carolina also held a drive-in service, but took the additional step of changing it to Saturday because of an expected storm. Gloved volunteers carefully distributed prepackaged communion packets to families who drove into the YMCA parking lot. While Pastor Matt McGarity preached from the New Testament, cars sporadically honked in agreement. “We felt tonight like we would any Easter morning: joyful, expectant, hopeful,” parishioner Kelly Hills said.

-By Geir Moulson and Sarah Blake Morgan

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At one of the biggest churches in South Korea, Seoul’s Yoido Full Gospel Church, a small number of masked church followers attended the service broadcast online via the church’s website. They were seated noticeably apart from each other to abide by social distancing rules. Choir members also wore masks when they sang hymns.

People also gathered at Happy Gospel Church in the U.S. state of Florida, though they were in the parking lot. Some sat in lawn chairs or on tailgates, but families stayed at least 6 feet apart – even when Pastor Bill Bailey did an altar call.

-By Hyung-jin Kim and Terry Spencer

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At the Vatican, St. Peter’s Square was empty of crowds and ringed by police barricades. Pope Francis celebrated Easter Mass inside the largely vacant basilica, calling for solidarity the world over to confront the “epochal challenge” posed by the coronavirus pandemic. He offered special prayers for the sick, the dead, the elderly, refugees and the poor and assured the faithful that God was still among them. “We are convinced that he has laid his hand upon us firmly reassuring us: Do not be afraid, I have risen, and I am with you still!”

The message was echoed by David Uth, senior pastor at First Baptist Orlando in the U.S. state of Florida. Uth told worshippers tuning in to an online Easter service that a question that comes up as the coronavirus pandemic ravages lives is: Where is God?

“He’s the same place He was the day His son died to give us salvation from our sin,” he said. “He’s the same place He was the day His son Jesus walked out of the grave. He is with us.”

-By Nicole Winfield and Mariam Fam

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In the U.S., Central, Louisiana pastor Rev. Tony Spell, said people from every state and every continent save one attended Easter service Sunday morning at Life Tabernacle Church.

Spell, who is facing misdemeanor charges for holding services despite a ban on gatherings said during the service, shown online: “My hope is not in a vaccine for a virus, but all my hope is in Jesus.”

Worshippers can be heard clapping, singing and responding “amen” during the service, though it was not clear how many people were in attendance.

-By Emily Wagster Pettus

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Associated Press writers Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta and Elana Schor in New York contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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