For Pope Francis at the Vatican, and for Christians worldwide from churches large and small, this will be an Easter like none other: The joyous message of Christ's resurrection will be delivered to empty pews.
Worries about the coronavirus outbreak have triggered widespread cancellations of Holy Week processions and in-person services. Many pastors will preach on TV or online, tailoring sermons to account for the pandemic. Many extended families will reunite via Face Time and Zoom rather than around a communal table laden with an Easter feast April 12.
“I'll miss Mass and the procession,” said Aida Franco, 86, a retired teacher from Quito, Ecuador. “But God knows better.”
Pope Francis, the first pontiff from Latin America, will be celebrating Mass for Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Easter in a near-empty St. Peter's Basilica, instead of in the huge square outside filled with Catholic faithful.
The pandemic has prompted cancellation of a renowned annual tradition of sawdust and handmade flower carpets coating the streets of Antigua, a colonial Guatemalan city, during its Holy Week procession. Instead, some residents will make smaller carpets to display outside their homes.
“We know this is happening because of some message from God,” said Cesar Alvarez, who has been making the multicolored carpets with his family for 28 years. “But we're taking it with a lot of sadness.”
In some communities, there are innovative efforts to boost Eastertime morale.
At Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kansas, family ministries director Heather Jackson is organizing an Easter egg hunt that embraces social distancing. Parents and children are creating colorful images of Easter eggs to display in windows or on garage doors, and the “hunt” will entail families driving around in their cars, or strolling on foot, trying to spot as many eggs as possible.
“It's about keeping people safe while maintaining that sense of joy,” Jackson said. “It will be a difficult time, because it's a time for families to come together and right now we just can't do that.”
Many pastors are pondering their upcoming Easter sermons, including the Rev. Steven Paulikas of All Saints Episcopal Church in Brooklyn. His sermon will be transmitted online but delivered in an empty church.
At St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Brunswick, Ohio, Father Bob Stec also is organizing a pre-Easter initiative, arranging for each of the parish's 5,500 families to get a friendly call from another member.
He's expecting upwards of 20,000 people to watch the online Easter service.