- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 12, 2020

President Trump on Sunday wished American Christians a happy Easter and said his administration is “getting rid of the plague,” as Pope Francis celebrated Mass with worshippers sitting one-per-pew in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City to ensure social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Across the country and around the world, Christians improvised Easter observations and activities Sunday to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ while adhering to stay-at-home orders intended to stop the spread of the deadly respiratory disease.

In a 48-second video on Twitter, Mr. Trump acknowledged that “this Easter will be much different than others because we’ll be separated physically, only, from our churches. We won’t be sitting there next to each other, which we’d like to be and soon will be again.”

The president, who early last month had suggested lifting social distancing restrictions by Easter, said his administration is “winning the battle” against COVID-19, calling it a “plague against our country like nobody’s ever seen.”

At St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, the nation’s epicenter of coronavirus, Cardinal Timothy Dolan expected more than 100,000 viewers for a televised Easter Mass — a significant increase from the 600 who usually watch the iconic church’s live-streamed Sunday services.

Across the city, Christians sang “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” from their balconies and windows, a celebration organized by Kathy Keller of Redemer Presbyterian Church.

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

In the nation’s capital, Washington Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory noted the absence of the annual ceremony welcoming new members to Catholicism during an Easter vigil at St. Matthew’s Cathedral.

“We look forward with eager anticipation to that still unknown day when we can receive those who are preparing to become members of this family of faith,” Archbishop Gregory said.

In Kansas on Saturday, the state’s highest court upheld Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order limiting in-person worship services to 10 or fewer people. Republican lawmakers had sought to exempt churches from social distancing restrictions.

In other states, congregants found clever ways to meet for Easter services. In Clover, South Carolina, members of Relevant Church sat in their cars in a parking lot as they sang hymns and listened to the pastor’s sermon on FM radio Saturday evening.

“Let me hear some noise from this parking lot,” Pastor Matt McGarity told the nearly 300 people who attended the unorthodox Easter service.

Meanwhile, governments in other nations took firm steps to enforce social distancing orders, such as Italian police patrolling streets in search of violators on Easter Sunday. Other countries erected roadblocks to force would-be churchgoers to stay home and participate in Easter services via television or the internet.

At Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was closed this week for the first time in nearly 700 years to help spread the virus, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa urged the faithful to not be discouraged.

“The message of Easter is that life, despite all, will prevail,” Archbishop Pizzaballa said during a Mass attended by a few clerics, with the streets of the surrounding Old City devoid of pilgrims and vendors.

Pope Francis also offered a message of hope and sobriety: “After the Second World War, this beloved continent was able to rise again, thanks to a concert spirit of solidarity that enabled it to overcome the rivalries of the past. This is not a time for self-centeredness because the challenge we are facing is shared by all, without distinguishing between persons.”

Back in the United States, Waylon Bailey, senior pastor at the First Baptist Church of Covington, Louisiana, said officials held an online service for Easter.

“We had about 5000+ viewers, about a 20% increase over what we would have expected to attend,” Mr. Bailey said in an email. “I think this is making a number of people aware of how much they appreciate the church and how much they have taken it for granted. When many parts of your life have been taken away, you begin appreciating those areas even more. I also think there are many people who are much more comfortable viewing and participating than being in the midst of a crowd.”

James Varney contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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