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story.lead_photo.caption In this Sunday, March 29, 2020 photo, the Rev. Steven Paulikas, left, and curate Spencer Cantrell place a frontal on the altar for Palm Sunday, which will be commemorated virtually this year, at All Saints' Episcopal Church in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The global coronavirus pandemic is upending the season's major religious holidays, forcing leaders and practitioners across faiths to improvise. (AP Photo/Emily Leshner)

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 FaceTime and Zoom rather than around a communal table laden with an Easter feast on 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.

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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.

In some communities, there are innovative efforts to boost Easter morale.

At Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kan., 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."

In Venezuela, Catholic officials said that after the Holy Week liturgies, some priests would try to take the Blessed Sacrament -- the wine and bread of Holy Communion -- on a vehicle and, using loudspeakers, invite congregants to join in spirit from their windows and balconies.

A similar use of priest-carrying vehicles was proposed in the Philippines, Asia's bastion of Catholicism.

In Brazil, the world's biggest Catholic country, Rio de Janeiro's huge Christ the Redeemer statue has been closed indefinitely. Large Holy Week gatherings are banned in several states after a federal court overruled a decree by President Jair Bolsonaro exempting religious services from quarantine measures.

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.

"It's started me thinking about the empty tomb," he said, referring to the biblical account of Christ's resurrection after his crucifixion.

"That emptiness was actually the first symbol of this new life," Paulikas said.

On the evening of April 9 -- Holy Thursday commemorating the Last Supper of Jesus and his apostles -- Paulikas is organizing a communal supper for his congregation, hoping members will join via FaceTime.

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.

"We're going to try to flood their senses visually and audibly with the sounds and images that will give them hope," he said. "This is one of those wake-up calls," he said. "We're more aware than ever how desperately we need God in our lives."

In Atlanta, an Easter message for Emory University is being prepared by Robert Franklin, a professor at Emory's Candler School of Theology.

"The first Easter with its joyful surprise emerged out of suffering, fear, suspicion, death, sorrow and grief," Franklin writes. "Easter in the time of COVID-19 is closer existentially to that first Easter than to our customary cultural festivals of self-indulgence and triumphalism."

Information for this article was contributed by Sonia Perez, Debora Rey, Eva Vergara, Diane Jeantet, Gonzalo Solano and Jorge Rueda of The Associated Press.

A Section on 04/05/2020

Print Headline: Clergy get creative to deliver Holy Week services

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