Coronavirus and religion – daily update 20 March

By Kevin Bocquet

On the day that the coronavirus death toll worldwide passed 10,000, we continue to chart developments of how Covid-19 is affecting religious life in the UK and the world.

UK:

Reform Judaism is launching RJ:TV, an interactive broadcasting platform offering four hours of programming including daily prayer services, adult learning sessions, content for under 5s and entertainment for all ages. A youth channel will be opened alongside for 6 – 16 year olds. The aim is to keep communities open and engaged while synagogues are closed.

In line with an announcement made on Wednesday, the Catholic Church in the UK will be  suspending public masses and other services from tonight.    The Church advises that confessions may still be heard provided that social distancing is observed, for example if priest and penitent are separated by a grille and a cloth.

In the House of Lords on Thursday,  the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, spoke about the closure of all UK school from tonight.  He said: “For many children in the most deprived areas, school is where they get not just education, but food.  What can the Government offer to enable free school meals to continue during the gap?”  The Church of England’s chief education officer, Nigel Genders, posted on Twitter that he was grateful for assurances from the schools minister Baroness Berridge that the most vulnerable children would be supported in real and practical ways.

Still in the UK, the Charedi Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations has announced it’s closing all its educational institutions, and has said that only healthy men should attend synagogue.  Women and children should not come to synagogue at all, while elderly men and men with underlying health conditions should pray at home.

The Sikh Council UK has announced an action plan with health and safety directives for gurdwaras, Sikh charities and other organisations during the pandemic.  In Scotland, the executive committee of the Guru Nanak gurdwaras announce that all main programmes there will cease, although the gurdwaras will remain accessible to members wanting to pray.

ABROAD

The Catholic Herald reports that in Italy, at least 28 priests are among those who’ve died from the virus.  All but three were over 70, the youngest was 54.  They include eleven victims from one diocese, Bergamo, where at least 15 other priests have been hospitalised.  Meanwhile in Rome, Associated Press are reporting that two convents have been stricken by the virus.  At one of them, the Institute of Daughters of San Camilo, 59 nuns have been taken ill, including one who is in hospital.

The Pope has released a video message urging Catholics to help each other stay firm in faith.  It’s part of a campaign by Italian bishops to have Catholics say the rosary together, praying for an end to the pandemic, the healing of the sick and the wellbeing of families in their second week of lockdown.  Pope Francis prayed God would enlighten scientists seeking a cure and prayed political leaders would safeguard all those entrusted to their care.

Saudi Arabia has suspended entering and praying in the outer courtyards of the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina, according to an announcement from the General Presidency of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Affairs.

Associated Press report that Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani, in separate new year messages, have vowed to overcome Coronavirus and increase economic growth.  CBS report that Rouhani will pardon another 10,000 prisoners.  Some of Iran’s busiest religious shrines have been closed.

CNN said celebrations of the Persian New Year, or Nowruz, were severely scaled down.  It’s normally a very busy time, with traditional customs including jumping over bonfires to ward off sickness.  Because of the virus, people are reported to have jumped over candles instead, in their living rooms or backyards.  Usually at this time of year, people visit family and neighbours for celebratory meals.  This year they’re putting up banners outside their homes wishing each other a happy new year, but otherwise staying put.