If God represents the good, then why does He allow the spread of COVID-19? How can I maintain my belief during such tribulations? During the month of April, instead of uniting in community to celebrate their annual religious festivals, disciples are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by grappling with questions that evaluate the basis of their faith, as the crisis challenges not only the spiritual interpretations of holy texts, but also the logistics required to support the belief.
The rising death toll and subsequent hysteria have prompted discussions surrounding how faiths can find meaning and God amid the disintegration of the normal world order. Some, like Ralph Drollinger, the minister who leads Bible study for President Donald Trump’s cabinet and 52 other GOP lawmakers, view the virus as God’s punishment and judgement of the state of the world. In two blog posts and a Bible study guide, Drollinger blames those who worship the “religion of environmentalism” and display a “proclivity toward lesbianism and homosexuality” for infiltrating the “high positions in our government, our educational system, our media and our entertainment industry” and being responsible for “God’s consequential wrath on our nation,” in the form of COVID-19. His comments emphasize the divisiveness around the world that COVID-19 has brought to light, as well as people’s tendency to find a scapegoat to blame the problem on.
COVID-19 has also affected the traditions of religious faiths, specifically the proceedings of burial rituals and other religious conventions enacted to honor the deceased. In Israel, family and friends are unable to offer their condolences and support to the bereaved during the shiva, a week-long mourning period in the Jewish faith that facilitates the mourner’s return to a structured daily routine after a death. Although more liberal rabbis encourage well-wishers to form a virtual community of solidarity and guidance, many Orthodox Jews still elect to forgo the traditional mourner’s prayer, the kaddish, as it requires the physical presence of at least ten individuals. India’s revised guidelines for disposing the dead states that funerals must have less than twenty attendees, a capacity which restricts the adherents of several faiths in their ability to have a funeral procession, an element of the burial process that is commonplace in South Asia. A majority of the Hindu families in India are also unable to use public transportation to move the bodies of the dead to the Ganges River so that the bodies could be cremated and submerged in the waters, an act that would protect the soul by augmenting the chance for salvation.
With dates in April marking the annual start of many religious festivals, faiths are also fighting to preserve the integral sense of community at the heart of celebration by adapting the ancient ceremonies to the conditions of modern times. For example, beginning April 8, families celebrating Passover, a festival in which members of the Jewish faith remember how Moses brought their ancestors from Egypt to escape the bonds of slavery, are using the important Seder meal to teach their children how washing hands safeguards the vitality of themselves and others. Although Muslims are unable to go to the mosque to pray during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that begins on April 23, a team of members of the younger generation are distributing recipes, activities, and fact sheets across the United Kingdom to provide others with the chance to engage virtually.
On Palm Sunday, which starts Catholic Holy Week leading up to Easter, Pope Francis celebrated Mass inside a near-empty St. Peter’s Basilica. An event that has traditionally drawn tens of thousands of tourists and pilgrims, this year’s Palm Sunday Mass was held without the public as Italy’s lockdown prevents public meetings the scale of which is normal for Holy Week programming. During the Mass, the Pope encouraged disciples to praise the victory of the real heroes that have emerged during the crisis, such as the medical staff, and to live vivaciously by serving others. He also proclaimed the importance of trusting God’s mission by preserving hope: “Today, in the tragedy of a pandemic, in the face of the many false securities that have now crumbled, in the face of so many hopes betrayed, in the sense of abandonment that weighs upon our hearts, Jesus says to each one of us: ‘Courage, open your heart to my love.’”
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