Impact of the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic on religion

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The 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic has impacted religion in various ways, including the cancellation of the worship services of various faiths, the closure of Sunday Schools, as well as the cancellation of pilgrimages surrounding observances and festivals.[1] Many churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples have offered worship through livestream amidst the pandemic.[2] Relief wings of religious organisations have dispatched disinfection supplies, powered air purifying respirators, face shields, gloves, coronavirus nucleic acid detection reagents, ventilators, patient monitors, syringe pumps, infusion pumps, and food to affected areas.[3] Other churches have offered free COVID-19 testing to the public.[4] Adherents of many religions have gathered together to pray for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, for those affected by it, as well as for wisdom for physicians and scientists to combat the disease.[5][6] In the United States, President Donald Trump designated 15 March 2020 as a National Day of Prayer for "God’s healing hand to be placed on the people of our Nation".[7][8][9]



A sign on a Baptist Christian church that has been temporarily closed, because of the coronavirus.

World Council of Churches General Secreatary Olav Fykse Tveit announced that, "This situation calls on our solidarity and accountability, mindfulness, care and wisdom... [as well as] for our signs of faith, hope and love".[10] Amidst the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic, some churches continue to operate their food pantries that are offering bags filled with meat and toilet paper rolls for needy families.[11] The National Cathedral of the United States, which belongs to the Episcopal Church, donated over five-thousand N95 surgical masks to hospitals of Washington D.C., which were in shortage during the 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic.[12] Other churches, such as the Church of the Highlands, an evangelical Christian megachurch, have offered free COVID-19 tests in their parking lots.[4]

The government of China, which upholds a policy of state atheism, used the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic to continue its antireligious campaigns, demolishing Xiangbaishu Church in Yixing and removing a Christian Cross from the steeple of a church in Guiyang County.[13][14] In the Shandong Province, "officials issued guidance forbidding online preaching, a vital way for churches to reach congregants amid both persecution and the spread of the virus".[13][14]

Many Episcopal and Catholic dioceses have recommended older Christians to stay at home rather than attending Mass on Sundays, which is usually required; many churches of all Christian denominations have made church services available via radio, online livestreaming or television while others have offered drive-in services in their church parking lots.[15][2][1]

Many Christians traditionally observe the Christian penitential season of Lent through the abstinence from meat on Fridays, especially Roman Catholics, Methodists and Anglicans; the requirement to observe this custom was lifted by Roman Catholic bishops amidst the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic, which coincided with Lent in 2020.[16] The liturgies normally held during Holy Week (especially those on Palm Sunday, Spy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday), the last week of Lent, have been canceled by many churches belonging to mainstream Christian denominations, including the Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Moravian, and Reformed Churches.[17][18][19][20]

Referencing the Christian doctrine of the Body of Christ, Anglican priest Jonathan Warren Pagán wrote that "Gathered worship in word and sacrament is therefore not an optional add-on for Christians" though the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic rendered it necessary to move to online formats for the common good.[21] He encouraged the practice of Spiritual Communion amidst the pandemic (especially during the Anglican service of Morning Prayer), which has been used by Christians during times of plagues, as well as during times of persecution, both of which have prevented Christians from gathering on the Lord's Day to celebrate the Eucharist.[21] Methodist clergy, as well as Pope Francis, also suggested that the faithful practice Spiritual Communion during the COVID-19 pandemic.[22][23][24]

The celebration of Saint Patrick's Day, a feast day celebrating the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, on 17 March 2020 was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, though services were still held in some churches and some parades still commenced.[25]


Lutheran Disaster Response, the relief wing of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has provided supplies to China, whence the disease originated; these include disinfection supplies, powered air-purifying respirators, face shields, gloves, coronavirus nucleic acid detection reagents, ventilators, patient monitors, syringe pumps, infusion pumps, and food to affected areas.[3]

As most supplies are being sent to developed countries, Lutheran World Relief is working to send resources to Africa, where Allyson Bear says "widespread poverty and crowded urban slums put Africans at extreme risk."[26] At Lutheran World Relief clinics in Nairobi, where multiple months of HIV medication are provided to patients, people were educated on the importance of handwashing and protective equipment has been repurposed to address the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic.[26]

Sign regarding COVID-19 on the front door of St. Martin's by-the-Lake Episcopal Church in Minnetonka Beach, Minnesota


L. Jonathan Holston, bishop of the South Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church recommended that churches "proceed with worship services — providing increased vigilance regarding cleaning worship areas, providing hand-washing stations, and educating members about social distancing and other preventive measures."[27] On 13 March 2020, Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church issued a statement that would be updated no later than the start of Holy Week, which directed "the local churches of any size and other ministries in the states of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington to suspend in-person worship and other gatherings of more than 10 people for the next two weeks".[27] Many parts of the Methodist Churches, which uphold Sunday Sabbatarian teaching, have transitioned their church services online; ninety percent of the parishes within the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, for example, are now offering worship via internet livestream.[27]


Many churches have been ringing their church bells five times a day for the Liturgy of the Hours as a call to prayer amidst the coronavirus outbreak.[28]

The Vatican announced that Holy Week observances in Rome, which occur during the last week of the Christian penitential season of Lent, have been canceled.[1] With the Diocese of Rome closing its churches and chapels, Saint Peter's Square is now empty of Christian pilgrims;[1] on the other hand the Archdiocese of New York, though cancelling services, has left its churches open for prayer.[1] Setting an example for churches unable to celebrate public masses due to the lockdown, Pope Francis began livestreaming daily masses from his home at Domus Sanctae Marthae on 9 March.[29] In Oregon, a different approach was briefly taken as Archbishop Alexander Sample instructed parishes to offer more masses so that each mass would be more sparsely attended;[30] however, tightening restrictions on public gatherings in Oregon led to even Archbishop Sample suspending public masses beginning on 17 March.[31]

By 20 March 2020, every Roman Catholic diocese in the United States had suspended the public celebration of Mass and dispensed with the obligation to attend Sunday Mass; the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the United States also suspended public Divine Liturgies.[32][33][34][35][36][37][38]

The Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Penitentiary on 20 March 2020 granted plenary indulgences to various people affected by the Cornavirus. Additionally, those who cannot receive the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, especially those afflicted with the coronavirus, may receive a plenary indulgence by reciting prayers, especially the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, on their own, with the presence of a crucifix being recommended.[39][40][41]

As an outbreak began to accelerate in New Orleans, on 24 March 2020 Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards called for a day of prayer and fasting.[42] Bel Edwards wrote that he and his wife "believe in the power of prayer and know, based on our Catholic Christian faith, that prayer coupled with fasting is pleasing to God."[43] The day prior, the Archdiocese of New Orleans announced that Archbishop Gregory Aymond had tested positive for COVID-19 on 23 March. The 70-year-old Archbishop stated that he had not been feeling well and was tested with his symptoms. He stated that he will continue to stream reflections on the crisis to Facebook and the Archdiocese's website.[44]

On 27 March 2020, Pope Francis imparted the Urbi et Orbi blessing, normally reserved for Christmas and Easter, from an empty Saint Peter's Square following a prayer for the health of all the world.[45][46] For the prayer service, Francis brought the crucifix from San Marcello al Corso which had processed through the streets of Rome during the miraculous plague cure of 1522.[47]

Eastern Orthodoxy[edit]

The Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople issued a worldwide suspension of all "divine services, events, and rites, with the exception of private prayer in churches that will remain open, until the end of March".[48] In a joint communique with the heads of other Jerusalem churches, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem urged members "to adhere by the provisions and instruction of the civil authorities" regarding COVID-19.[49] The Russian Orthodox Church has yet to suspend church services, but has implemented precautionary measures to reduce the potential spread of infection.[50] The Romanian Orthodox Church,[51] Serbian Orthodox Church,[52] and Georgian Orthodox Church[53] have implemented similar precautions without suspending services.

Nondenominational Christianity[edit]

Other Christian churches, including non-denominational churches, have begun utilizing livestreams with a chat feature and emphasizing gathering in small groups, such as immediate families, while suspending in-person church attendance.[54] This includes Life.Church's Church Online Platform and an encoder device known as Living As One. Articles are being published to aid those who have not started a livestream in the past.[55] In compliance with local recommendation, churches such as Cornerstone Fellowship in the California East Bay were moving exclusively to online, emphasizing it not being done out of fear or panic, but out of concern for the elderly.[56][57] In Hong Kong, churches have moved to Life.Church's Open Network Church Online platform as well.[58]


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has implemented a temporary suspension of all worship services across the globe as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.[59]


Closed Shah Abdol-Azim Shrine in Rey, Iran

There is concern that the virus may be hard to control during the travel and gatherings around Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr.[60]

A large number of cases in Southeast Asia were tied to a large Tabligh Akbar religious event held in late February 2020.[60]

Saudi Arabia closed the Great Mosque of Mecca for Umrah visitors and banned touching Kaaba.[61]

Kaaba in 2003
Kaaba in 2020
A comaparative photo of the Kaaba before and after the restrictions.

On 5 March, the Saudi government added further steps towards the Great Mosque of Mecca and Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina, which included a temporary closure of the Great Mosque for sterilisation purposes.[62] On 20 March, both mosques were closed to the public.[63]

The Islamic Society of North America, Muslim Medical Association of Canada and the Canadian Council of Imams recommended that congregations suspend Friday congregational prayers and gatherings.[1][64]

The Dome of the Rock has closed, though Muslim prayers are still occurring in the Temple Mount.[65]

Mosques have closed in Singapore and Malaysia.[66][67]

Imam Reza Shrine, Fatima Masumeh Shrine, Shah Abdol-Azim Shrine and Jamkaran Mosque in Iran were closed temporarily.[68] Friday prayers were also suspended.[69]

Religious leaders in both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have strongly urged people to pray in their homes and avoid going to Mosques for regular and Friday prayers.[citation needed]

The Indonesian Ulema Council issued a fatwa advising Muslims to pray at home and avoid mosques where the disease had spread severely.[60]

Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs imposed a nationwide ban on prayer gatherings in mosques, including Friday prayers.[70]

On 19 March 2020, twenty-five thousand people gathered in Bangladesh to listen to "healing verses" from the Holy Qur'an "to rid the country of the deadly virus."[71]


At the Western Wall, thousands of Jews gathered to pray for an end to the coronavirus pandemic and this was led by Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu.[5]

Many gatherings related to the Jewish celebration of Purim were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[25]

The Rabbinical Council of America, speaking on behalf of Orthodox Judaism, issued a guideline stating that "public gatherings in synagogues and schools should be severely limited".[1]

The Rabbinical Assembly, speaking for Conservative Judaism, stated that "Protecting human life overrides almost every other Jewish value" and recommended that weddings be postponed.[1]


The festival of Panguni Uthiram, which is usually associated with processions, was canceled due to the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic.[72] Nepal government has given permission to only 25 pilgrims at once in the holy Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu,Nepal.[73]

On 18 March, the journey to Vaishno Devi Mandir in the Indian union territory of Jammu and Kashmir has been called off. Apart from this, the operation of all interstate buses coming to from Jammu and Kashmir has also been stopped. Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMVDSB), issued a consultation for foreigners not to visit the temple until 28 days after their arrival in India. Common people will not be able to go to the world famous Aarti to be held at the Ganges Ghat in Kashi. The district administration has banned entry of common people in Ganga Aarti. The organizers have also been asked to complete the Ganga Aarti in a simple way.

Amidst a surge in confirmed cases across the state of Maharashtra in India, the health officials declared that several tourist and religious sites will be closed down as a precautionary measure. These sites included Siddhivinayak Temple in Mumbai, Tulja Bhavani Temple in Osmanabad district, Ajanta and Ellora Caves in Aurangabad district, Dagadusheth Halwai Ganapati Temple in Pune, Mumba Devi Temple in Mumbai and Saibaba Temple in Shirdi.


The SGPC, has decided to keep the Golden Temple and all other Shrines under its Governance open. The General Secretary Roop Singh briefed the media and reasoned that the Golden Temple wasn't closed even during Military Attacks on place, by Afghans in 18th century and Indian Army in 1984. However, the SGPC administration is keeping a strong vigil on the WHO recommendations. The Sikh Coalition recommended the cancelling of services at gurdwaras.[1] Additionally, many Sikh gurudwaras have suspended the offering of free food to gurudwara visitors as a result of the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic.[74]

The Central Sikh Gurdwara Board has recommended that elderly Sikhs stay at home, though it has permitted weddings that have been scheduled to proceed.[74]

The Nagar Kirtans associated with the holiday of Vaisakhi in the Spring have also been suspended or postponed.


The Cultural Corps of Korean Buddhism, which allows visitors to experience monastic life in one hundred and thirty-seven temples, has suspended that program.[75]

The Buddhist Churches of America have cancelled services for the spring Higan holiday and other events at many of their temples.[76]

There is concern that the virus may be hard to control during the travel and gatherings around Vesak.

Legal issues[edit]

The First Liberty Institute, a non-profit legal firm based in the United States, has issued guidance for religious institutions related to the suspension of their work during the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic.[2]

While many religious organizations suspended in-person services, activities and events,[11][77] some gatherings happened despite advice or regulations to not meet in large groups.[78][79][80] Some governments exempted religious organizations from the requirements on the number people allowed to be present at in-person gatherings during the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic.[81]


Italian Law and religion scholars of the Association of Academics of the Legal Regulation of the Religious Phenomenon on 8 March 2020 started a research project, coordinated by Prof. Pierluigi Consorti (University of Pisa), with a website, for collecting documents and brief comments about Religion, Law and Covid-19 Emergency.

See also[edit]


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