- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The coronavirus brought together — virtually — on Tuesday a priest, a rabbi, an imam and a Mormon elder who all agreed that now is the time to be socially, but not spiritually, distant.

Via a video conference roundtable, religious leaders of the Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Washington commiserated and compared strategies for healing and sustaining lives of faith during this season of isolation and disease.

“Resilience is in our DNA,” said Rabbi Abbi Sharofsky, director of intergroup relations for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. “We know we’re still going to have a Seder. It’s not going to be with all our family members, it’s not going to be with our friends … we can’t open the door in the same way right now.”

Stay-at-home orders and bans on gatherings of more than 10 people to halt the spread of the coronavirus have hit the faith community hard, as they have others across the country. Churches are locked, mosques are closed and temples are empty, as many faithful take to Skype and Zoom for a sense of communion.

“Certainly the worship itself will be different this year because it’ll be home-centered,” said Kevin Calderwood, an elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the D.C. area.

While closing brick-and-mortar spiritual refuges could be difficult in any season, the month of April presents a particular challenge: Easter, Passover and Ramadan are celebrated within the next 30 days.

With the latest White House guidance that social distancing measures should remain in place at least until May, many faith communities have settled in for the long haul.

“We still have life in the midst of this,” said Imam Masjid Muhammad of The Nation’s Mosque in Washington, D.C. “We’ve very physical [during the Holy Month of Ramadan], meals every night, men should have special prayers … Now we’re going to look at doing some of those things via livestreaming into the homes.”

“The Orthodox and Reform and secular — everyone is in agreement that we should not be gathering together in large groups for the Seder,” Rabbi Sharofsky said. “When we look back at this a year from now … we’ll say, ‘Last year was hard and we made it through and we’re so grateful for what we have now.’”

At All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas, Virginia, a family put together a 20-minute video version of the Stations of the Cross, which represents Jesus Christ’s torturous path to his crucifixion.

Other Catholics have taken to watching Masses from around the globe, including Pope Francis’ televised prayers from Vatican City.

“It brings out a little more of the universality of the Catholic church celebrants around the world,” said Father Ramon Dominguez, program director at the Don Bosco Center for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington. “Even if it’s a different language, it’s the same Mass.”

The Mormon church, similarly, will host a general conference via web video this weekend, and Mr. Calderwood says congregants continue to pack food trucks to send to hungry families.

“Just as Christ fed the 5,000 with a couple loves and fishes, we continue to load up truckloads of food and ship them across the country,” he said.

Meanwhile, the region saw its coronavirus numbers climb Tuesday as more people are tested for the deadly respiratory disease. Maryland recorded 1,660 positive cases, Virginia 1,250 and the District 495.

D.C. officials said 125 people have recovered, and Maryland officials said 53 are recovering. Virginia did not provide information about recovering patients.

On Monday, the governors of Virginia and Maryland and the District’s issued stay-at-home orders to residents, punishable by as much as a $5,000 fine and a year in jail, depending on the jurisdiction.

“A lot of it is just to ensure compliance. You have to have some kind of penalty to associate it with an order,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday on CNN’s “New Day” about the need for the executive orders.

In addition, the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation closed all facilities including playgrounds, parks and dog parks, athletic fields and courts Tuesday to promote social distancing and enforce the stay-at-home order.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

• Sophie Kaplan contributed to this report.

• Christopher Vondracek can be reached at cvondracek@washingtontimes.com.

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