Watch CBS News

Better Together: Congregations Adapt To Holy Week, Passover During Coronavirus Pandemic

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- The week before Easter is considered one of the holiest times by a number of faiths, but this year it is occurring under the unprecedented threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

Back on March 8, Christ the King Catholic Church in Pleasant Hill was just starting to see smaller gatherings at its Sunday Masses. At the time, they had dispensed with shaking hands and the holy water font had been removed, but people still stood shoulder to shoulder in the pews.

empty church Coronavirus (CBS)
empty church Coronavirus (CBS)

That was then. On Palm Sunday, the church sat empty--like all others in the state, it has been shut down. San Jose Archbishop Oscar Cantu said, historically, there have been church closures in certain countries at various times, but never anything like this.

"What I've seen or read, there's no other instance that has come to mind where churches have had to close down universally, across the world," he said.

Christ the King is now teleconferencing Mass online from its small chapel and Pastor Paulson Mundanmani says the response to it tells him that missing traditional Easter service this year may not be such a bad thing.

"I think this isolation, this hardship, will do a lot of good," Fr. Paulson said. "It's not going to destroy faith. It's going to build up faith. People will come back with that desire to belong."


It's also true at Jewish synagogues such as Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco. The magnificent temple withstood the 1906 earthquake but not COVID-19.

Normal Sabbath gatherings have been cancelled along with Passover observances set to begin on Wednesday. Passover commemorates the start of the Jews' flight from slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea to freedom. And the synagogue's Executive Director, Gordon Gladstone, says it is symbolic to what is happening today.

"In this moment, we understand once again it is a place of narrowness as we shelter in place, but there is redemption on the far side of the sea," he said.

David Bolaffi is Sherith Israel's Security Director and has been a member of the congregation for almost 30 years. He says it hurts to see the temple sit empty during the Sabbath. But he also thinks it could lead to a rebirth of faith among his friends and neighbors.

"I cannot wait for when the shelter-in-place is lifted and we have our first Friday night services," said Bolaffi, "because I want to see this place standing room only."

Regardless of which faith, congregations posting services online are reporting surprisingly good viewership during the shelter-in-place. In fact, in some cases they are seeing higher participation than when the churches and synagogues were still open.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.