Good Friday would normally be marked with torch-lit processions, pilgrimages and packed congregations around the world. But not this year.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced the closure of thousands of churches and the cancellation of special events in holy cities such as Rome and Jerusalem.
Instead Christians will be marking the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ with pre-recorded messages and live-streamed “virtual” services.
Pope Francis will lead a ceremony without the public at 6pm in Peter’s Square, where a wooden crucifix which was carried in a procession during an early 16th century plague is on display.
Only ten people – including five from the Vatican’s health office and five from a prison in Padua, northern Italy - will take part in the traditional Way of the Cross procession.
At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem a small group of clerics will hold a service behind closed doors before walking the Via Dolorosa.
“Now it is a little bit sad to see that nobody is able to walk. But we know that at this moment so many people are walking a personal Via Dolorosa, when I think of those who are in the hospital and in their houses with coronavirus.”
Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral is holding a special ceremony within the charred interior of the medieval landmark which was gutted by fire a year ago.
The event is closed to the public not just because of coronavirus but also due to the structural instability of the building. ”We wanted to send a message of hope,” said archbishop Michel Aupetit.
In the Philippines, where the annual procession of the “Black Nazarene” statue of Jesus through Manila has been cancelled, churchgoers have been told to stay home and watch masses on TV or online.
“I miss that moment in church when you say, ‘Peace be with you,’ to complete strangers and they smile back,” said Josille Sabsal, a Catholic missionary who has recreated an altar by setting up a laptop, a crucifix and small statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary on a table in her home.
Similar livestreamed services are taking place in India, Australia, the US and the UK.
“Good Friday is the darkest and most difficult day in the Christian story,” said the Church of England’s archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. “But it’s also the day that tells us something so important: no matter what we are going through, God is with us.”
Additional reporting by agencies
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