By Robin Gomes
Well, we begin with Europe, where Italy, Spain and France are the hardest hit by the coronavirus that has sent the entire world into turmoil.
The Catholic bishops of the continent are inviting their faithful to light a candle in front of their windows this evening, the eve of Easter, and pray for the world in turmoil and fear in the Covid-19 pandemic.
The invitation comes from Italian Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the president of the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) and Luxembourger Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich SJ, the President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE).
A note published on the CCEE website explains, "It is a small but significant and symbolic gesture of hope in this historical and dramatic moment in which millions of people in Europe and in the rest of the world are affected by great suffering and uncertainty caused by Covid-19 pandemic.”
In a prayer, the two cardinals ask the Father, Creator of the world, to look upon His “children, who in this difficult time of confusion and dismay [are] seeking strength, salvation and relief” and ask all people of goodwill to pray to God to “heal the sick, comfort their families and give wisdom to our rulers”.
The European bishops are joining Pope Francis in reiterating the closeness of the Church to all those struggling due to this outbreak: the victims, their families and all healthcare workers, volunteers and faithful who are in the frontline in caring for those affected and bringing them relief.
The European bishops note that “the current context of fear leads us to be wary of the other, which is perceived as a potential danger". "More than ever,” the two cardinals say, “we must cultivate the furrows of fraternity: it is together and united that we will overcome this scourge.”
Meanwhile, parishes across the Netherlands have been invited to ring their church bells simultaneously for 15 minutes at noon on Easter Sunday and Easter Monday.
The invitation from the Bishops’ Conference of the Netherlands is to express the closeness of the pastors “to the faithful at a time when it is not possible to celebrate the liturgy together and share a moment of prayer".
Church bells usually ring to call the faithful to the celebration of the Mass. This time, the Dutch bishops are calling on people to connect at home with the worship of the Church that continues but cannot be celebrated publicly because of the coronavirus pandemic.
They are also inviting Christian denominations to participate in this initiative, to proclaim that the Lord has truly risen. It is also the time to pray for the dramatic situation that the country is experiencing because of the Coronavirus and for the many who are suffering.
In Poland, where there is the tradition of offering food baskets during the Easter liturgy, the faithful have been invited to do so virtually online.
With over 6000 cases of coronavirus and 195 deaths, the country has been on lockdown since mid-March.
"Despite the restrictions, we will not give up preparing Easter baskets with eggs,” said the spokesman of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, Father Paweł Rytel-Andrianik. “We are creating virtual communities waiting to embrace each other," he said, urging particularly children to spread the initiative online.
On Easter Sunday, a family member will pronounce the blessing formula which can be downloaded from the website of the Bishops’ Conference or he dioceses. The faithful have been asked to publish the photos of their Easter basket on the social media with the hashtag # Święconka.
Fr. Rytel-Andrianik urged all Poles to connect with their loved ones through phone calls, messages and photos. “We share these moments through social media and create a virtual community waiting to embrace us again."
The priest expressed the bishops’ closeness to the elderly, the sick and the lonely and invited all to pray for the dead and their families. "Let's also remember the doctors, nurses, paramedics and all those who will spend Easter at work for our health and safety," he added.
In, Italy, the Community of Sant'Egidio is organizing a lunch for the poor on Easter Sunday and Monday in Rome.
“We must not leave anyone alone, especially the most fragile and vulnerable people, who in these days of the pandemic are more isolated and struggle to satisfy their primary food needs, due to the reduced movement of people and the closure of all catering establishments,” said the Rome-based international Christian lay group, committed to peace and development.
Sant'Egidio has put in place various solidarity initiatives across Italy during these hard times. Thanks to the generosity of many people, every week, the group in various parts of Italian cities, is able to bring provisions to people who unfortunately have lost their jobs in the nationwide lockdown.