Christians were marking Good Friday in isolation today as churches lay empty, worshippers prayed from home and the Pope prepared for a scaled-back Easter because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pilgrims have been barred from retracing Jesus’s steps in the Holy Land, with flights grounded and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre closed for the first time since 1349.
Pope Francis will lead the Way of the Cross procession in a party of just 11 people in St Peter’s Square, instead of the usual mass procession at the Colosseum, as Italy battles one of the world’s worst outbreaks.
Meanwhile in the Philippines, there was no relief from social distancing rules as police broke up rogue flagellations in the street – inviting the penitents to continue their religious discipline indoors.
AUSTRALIA: Brisbane’s Catholic archbishop Mark Coleridge delivers a Good Friday mass to an empty St Stephen’s Cathedral in the capital of Queensland today. The service is being live-streamed for worshippers online
PHILIPPINES: Two penitents who were found flagellating themselves in the street in the city of Pasay near Manila are escorted away by police, who invited them to continue their religious discipline indoors
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA: An empty auditorium at a church in the town of Medjugorge, which is usually packed with Catholic worshippers who believe the Virgin Mary appeared to a group of teenagers in 1981
INDONESIA: Children from Batak Christian Protestant Church take part in an online Good Friday service at their home in Banda Aceh today, with a laptop set up next to a cross marking Jesus’s crucifixion
VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis – pictured last night leading a Mass to commemorate the Last Supper – will lead a scaled-back Way of the Cross Procession in St Peter’s Square today
In Australia, a Catholic archbishop led a Good Friday mass for an empty cathedral today as worshippers in Brisbane stayed at home.
The service at St Stephen’s Cathedral was live-streamed to worshippers online, with similar virtual services planned for Saturday and Easter Sunday.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge also held a Thursday night service at St Vincents Private Hospital with the aim of ‘going where the action is’ to pay tribute to health workers.
‘To do all these things in an empty cathedral means someone like me has to learn new tricks. It’s a very different art and it feels weird in many ways,’ he said.
Worshippers in Indonesia were also praying from home today, after the government shut down public gatherings including religious services.
Children were praying in a makeshift place of worship at their home in Banda Aceh, with a laptop set up next to a cross.
In Rome, Pope Francis will lead a minimalist Good Friday ceremony in St Peter’s Square instead of his usual Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum.
Ten people – five from the Vatican’s health office and five from a badly-affected prison in Padua – will take part in the procession, which will circle around the obelisk in St Peter’s Square.
On display in the square will be a wooden crucifix which was carried during a plague that ravaged Rome in the early 16th century.
A Christian believer whips his bloodied back on a street in Manila today, defying government orders to stay at home to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the Philippines
A police officer wearing a mask intervenes in an unauthorised flagellation, speaking to penitents in the city of Pasay south of Manila, in the Philippines which is Asia’s major bastion of Catholicism
Barefoot worshippers carry out a flagellation in the street in Manila, watched by a group of people standing at close quarters
Catholic believers wearing masks pray outside a closed church in the Philippines today, marking the crucifixion of Jesus 2,000 years ago
A penitent is whipped on his back near Manila today, despite the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines encouraging people to stay at home and follow religious activities on radio, television or online
In Paris, Notre Dame cathedral is holding a special Good Friday ceremony almost a year after it was nearly destroyed by fire.
The event is closed to the public not only because of lockdown rules, but because the cathedral remains too structurally unstable to let parishioners inside.
‘We wanted to send a message of hope’ through the ceremony, Paris archbishop Michel Aupetit told reporters this week.
‘The message of hope is especially important for our compatriots at a time when we are particularly affected by the coronavirus, which is sowing anguish and death,’ he said.
In Bosnia, a Catholic shrine which is usually packed with pilgrims was deserted this week after travel was frozen by the pandemic.
St James Church in Medjugorge – where the Virgin Mary was said to appear before six teenagers in 1981 – has closed its doors and the Franciscan priests who manage the site are in confinement.
Several nuns and priests have been infected by the virus and are now isolating in a nearby convent that has been transformed into a quarantine zone.
Some 2.5million visitors usually flock to the site every year, but the streets were empty today while hotels, restaurants and religious souvenir shops are closed.
Brisbane’s Catholic archbishop Mark Coleridge delivers a Good Friday mass to an empty St Stephen’s cathedral in Brisbane today. Similar live-streamed services are planned for Saturday and Easter Sunday
A view towards the altar at the empty Brisbane cathedral. The archbishop also visited a hospital last night to pray for health workers battling the pandemic
A single worshipper prays in front of a Virgin Mary sculpture outside a church in Bosnia where devotees believe the Madonna appeared to a group of teenagers in 1981
Frane Jerkovic, a 57-year-old owner of a boarding house and hotel, said the situation is even worse than during Bosnia’s 1990s war, when the town was largely spared the violence that claimed 100,000 lives.
‘At that time the roads to Europe were open, pilgrims continued to come from all over the world,’ he said.
The Vatican is ambivalent about the alleged sightings of the Madonna, but Catholic authorities do not discourage the pilgrimages.
Pope Francis has previously doubted the sightings, saying the woman they claim to see ‘is not the mother of Jesus’.
In the meantime, the church’s masses are being broadcast online. According to the site’s official website, an April 5 ceremony attracted more than three million viewers.
Meanwhile in the Philippines – Asia’s bastion of Catholicism – masses and folk rituals which usually draw thousands of tourists have been put on hold.
The annual procession of the ‘Black Nazarene,’ a centuries-old statue of Jesus, through downtown Manila, has also been canceled.
In the city of Pasay near Manila today, police escorted two worshippers into their precinct after finding them flagellating in the street.
Churchgoers have been told to stay home and remember Jesus’ suffering through family prayers, fasting and by watching masses and religious shows on TV or online.
Sunday school children from Batak Christian Protestant Church take part in an online service to commemmorate Good Friday at their home in Banda Aceh in Indonesia today
A banner in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, tells people to stay at home because of the coronavirus pandemic today. Ceremonies to mark Good Friday have been cancelled because of the health crisis
The Rev. Flavie Villanueva, a former drug addict who ministers in Manila’s slums, got special permission to celebrate Mass on Thursday for 73 homeless people in a college basketball court.
‘We are asked to go back and rediscover where the church in our lives first started, and that´s in the family,’ he said.
In the Holy Land, the Vatican’s apostolic administrator called for prayer for people suffering and dying from the coronavirus.
‘We are celebrating Good Friday, the commemoration of the death of Jesus, under very difficult circumstances,’ Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa said.
The clergyman spoke outside Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, revered as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection.
The church was closed to the public weeks ago, but was opened on Good Friday specifically for his entry for prayers and a service attended by a few clerics. Jerusalem residents are locked down in their homes for all but essential activities, which do not include religious ceremonies.
The Christian denominations that share custody of the Holy Sepulchre face closures unprecedented in living memory, as do Jewish and Muslim leaders in a city that has sites sacred to all three faiths. Passover, Easter and Ramadan all fall this month.
Pizzaballa called on people ‘to be united in the heart, in the prayer, with all those who are suffering and dying.’