The numbers appear mind-numbing. More than 100,000 deaths in the United States alone.
Nearly 350,000 worldwide.
A local group aims to find a way to bring those statistics to a more personal level and take a moment to ache for all who have died from COVID-19 in the pandemic.
The four-member Columbus Interfaith, plus four other local houses of worship, will join in hearts to remember and honor the world’s COVID-19 victims in a virtual service via Zoom to be posted online Sunday.
Muslims have just celebrated Eid al-Fitr, the festival that marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. The month of fasting, which is demanding in itself, has been even harder this year with the current social distancing requirements. Usually the high point of each day would be gathering with family and friends to break the fast with the evening meal, known as iftar. This year these customary gatherings have not been possible in the same way as in other years, for Muslims across the world.
Religion and risk of infection
Places of worship, like other spaces where large numbers of people gather, were affected early on by the Covid-19 pandemic, and in some cases were early hotspots for spreading infection. A synagogue in New York, a church in the Philippines, and a mass religious gathering in Pakistan were all hotspots for spreading Covid-19 infection in early 2020.
In Norway, mosques were quick to shut their doors and take on an important role in efforts to stop the spread of infection by providing information and advice. Through their networks, mosques have reached out to people who were not easily reachable through the authorities’ established channels. Like for other religious leaders, the decision to ask the faithful to stay at home, away from mosques, has been difficult. In times of crisis, religious beliefs and rituals are important to many people. But the situation has demanded the opposite; not to gather, not to stand close together.
As we mark the death of 100,000 people in the U.S. from COVID-19, an unprecedented group of 100+ national faith leaders—from Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions representing major denominations, national faith-based organizations, local congregations, and millions of people of faith across the country—call for a National Day of Mourning and Lament. Together, they look to federal, state, and local elected officials to observe Monday, June 1 as National Day of Mourning and Lament, a day marked by moments of silence, lowering of flags, interfaith vigils, ringing of bells, and civic memorials.
This call is being supported by the U.S. Conference of Mayors who represent over 1,400 mayors across the country. Mayors lead on the frontline of the COVID-19 response effort and continue to model critical local leadership amid this difficult time.
Together, interfaith leaders and mayors across the nation will call us to mourn, lament, and honor the dead, acknowledge the unequal nature of our suffering, pray together for the healing of the nation, and recommit to the difficult work ahead.
“I encourage Episcopalians to join with other people of faith this weekend to grieve and honor those who have died from COVID-19,” said Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church. “Let this tragic moment not pass without us honoring the many among us who have lost their lives or lost their loved ones and commending them and ourselves to God’s love and peace.”
On a Sunday morning in April, the rising sun casts shadows over St Dominic’s Catholic Church in Yaba, a lively neighbourhood in the biggest city in the most populous country in Africa. The street leading to the church on the Lagos mainland holds an unusual serenity. Just over a month ago, it would have been filled with the tables of sellers of sacramental objects, their faces bowed downwards in the holy way of prayer, with rosaries tangled between their fingers.
On this day, however, the church – which usually hosts as many as 10,000 worshippers every Sunday – is empty. The congregation now prays at home, either following the service online or on the radio.
In a bid to limit the spread of the coronavirus, on 30 March, Lagos, neighbouring Ogun State and the capital city of Abuja imposed a five-week lockdown, during which all gatherings – religious included – with more than 20 attendees were banned. Churches and mosques had to adapt quickly, and Nigeria’s Muslim worshippers were the first to respond with the National Mosque in Abuja closing its doors on 19 March. For the first time in living memory, the mosque was silent and empty during Ramadan, which ended on 23 May. The silence is particularly notable on Fridays when the area surrounding the mosque would have been buzzing with worshippers lining up to fill the 25,000-person-capacity prayer arena during the hours of Salat al-Jumu’ah (Friday prayers).
The vibrant collection of people celebrating the day after Eid al-Fitr at the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts had to change because of the coronavirus.
This year, the mosque decided to provide food to hundreds of community members in need as the country remains in the midst of the unprecedented pandemic.
Eid al-Fitr begins on the evening of Saturday May 23 is an Islamic holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, a month-long period of fasting and deep reflection. Translated from Arabic as “the feast of the breaking of the fast”, Muslims observe the religious holiday by taking part in traditions such as holding prayer services and donating money to charity.
“We would have had a large congregational prayer at a park with probably two to three thousand people,” said Mohammed Dastigir, president of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts.
Dastigir told MassLive that usually the mosque would rent space in Stanley Park in Westfield or use one of the football fields at the high school.
“We usually work with the mayor (West Springfield Mayor William Reichelt) and we rent out the high school, which we obviously couldn’t do that this year. In our parking lot there’s tents and a bunch of food, like a buffet,” Dastigir said.
Since the founding of America, religion has been at the center of many of the most contentious conflicts our nation has encountered. We should have known it would be only a matter of time before the church was inserted into the coronavirus pandemic.
Throughout history, religion has brought us together when our survival as a nation was under siege. But just as often, it has ripped us apart when politicians sought to use it to justify selfish deeds.
The unholy alliance between religion and politics is an effective tool in creating discord, dissension and division. That’s why politicians find it so appealing.
The debate over whether churches should be included as essential businesses that are allowed to reopen during the pandemic began before Donald Trump officially entered the fray on Friday. But like everything he touches, the focus is now all about him.
The advent of the Coronavirus has compelled our three Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — to rethink how to maintain our ability to come together to express our beliefs and practice our religious rituals. Through the use of online technologies and social media platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, Instagram and YouTube, millions of home-bound American Jews, Christians and Muslims have been able to take part, despite the lockdown, in religious services, study sessions and celebrations of sacred and uplifting holidays — Passover,Easter and Ramadan.
Are these changes going to be temporary inconveniences or a new way for our faithful to participate?
Clearly, online religious services and celebrations will continue as a central component of our repertoire at least until a foolproof COVID-19 vaccine is made widely available. Yet it is no secret that our faithful are hungering for a rapid return to in-person services where they can experience and share their faith in ways hard to replicate on Zoom. We all want to accomplish that — the question is how to do so safely and responsibly.