COVID makes Easter in the Pacific very different

As the Pacific prepares to commemorate the holiest day on the Christian calendar, Easter Sunday, the growing threat posed by COVID-19 in many countries will leave worshippers confined to their homes. 

In Papua New Guinea, where the local COVID-19 outbreak is particularly serious, James Leia, 26, told the Samoa Observer church services are still taking place but some are staying home due to distancing protocols. 

The pandemic has taken over the lives of Papua New Guineans, he said. 

“Right now in P.N.G., church services are still happening, however, churches are adhering to COVID-19 protocols –  wearing masks and 1.5 metre spacing,”  Leia said from Port Moresby.

“Some churches are also streaming their sermons or services for people who cannot attend service due to the limited number of spaces at church or for the people who are in isolation.”

Leia is a journalist who also works as a business development manager for an events management company in P.N.G.

COVID-19 has changed the way Easter is usually celebrated and life in general, Leia said.

“We have the same holidays as well [but] it’s not like it used to be though,” he said.

“Before COVID, there were marches, especially on Palm Sunday, jubilation, and gatherings at churches. Families came together, reflected, prayed, rested, and had cook-outs.

“You had a real Easter vibe in the air, both in a religious sense and a worldly sense, if you know what I mean. Now, COVID, the fear, the anger surrounding it, the news about it – everything about COVID has taken over our lives.”

There is a real fear in P.N.G. of not just the pandemic but of the vaccines.

“It’s getting worse,” Leia said of the pandemic.

“There is fear because of news surrounding this vaccine.”

At the end of February, P.N.G. had only reported 1,275 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

But over the past month, cases have more than tripled, states a news media report from 9 News in Australia.

P.N.G. has now reported at least 4,660 COVID-19 cases and 39 related deaths.

To keep safe from COVID-19, Mr. Leia practices 1.5-metre spacing, wears a mask at all times and sanitises his hands regularly.

He hopes that churches and other groups can help P.N.G. by sharing information to combat the virus’ spread. 

“I think as a people – a village or country or community […] awareness and education on the matter is very important during a time like this,” he said. 

“Knowing what information is factual and what isn't is paramount in helping people make better decisions on the way they now go about their lives, living with COVID-19 around.

“The most basic, in this context, is getting churches all around to rally and have a network, speaking to each other, sharing factual information, disseminating that to their congregations, rallying together to help one another as you know a list of jobs have been lost during this time. 

“[T]he most basic of awareness and support will go a long way, whether you're doing it at a church in Samoa or Fiji or if you're a church in another island rallying to gain support from other churches to help your community [with]  financial support, medical [help], whatever it may be.”

Leia plans to spend Easter Sunday at home.

“ I am Christian and my denomination is United. I pray and read the Bible at home. I don’t really go to church, so that’s what I will be doing,” he said.

Some can say Easter is not as revered in P.N.G. as it is in Samoa but. Leia notes that both island groups do have the same holidays. But unlike Samoa, P.N.G. allows sports on Sundays.

The people of Samoa, by contrast, can expect a relatively normal Easter with various denominations filling church buildings to celebrate the risen Jesus Christ through song and worship.

The Government of Samoa has declared three public holidays for Easter weekend: Good Friday, 3 April (Holy Saturday) and Monday, 5 April, the day after Easter Sunday. 

Samoa’s Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour (M.C.I.L.) announced Friday, Saturday and Monday as public holidays last week.

Churches across Samoa, which remains free of COVID-19, opened Holy Week with Palm Sunday processions last weekend as Samoa’s faithful usually do each year.

Christians of all ages dressed in their best attire for church and some carried the leaves of palm trees symbolising Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

Congregations are expected to gather for special services on Good Friday and on Sunday.

Schools across Samoa hosted Easter celebrations on campus this week.

In other parts of the globe, such as the United States, the pandemic has given some churches no choice but to host services online. 

In Hawai’i, it has been about one year since singing in churches was banned as a safeguard to keep COVID-19 from spreading.

“After a year of directives that singing was no longer allowed, we praise God that we are having choir rehearsal tonight as we will resume choir singing at our upcoming start of Holy Week 2021, Palm Sunday! We’re elated to be back as a choir singing His Praises. God is good,” Tui Pule, a choir leader at Sacred Heart Samoan Choir in Wai’anae, Hawai’i said last week.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has a membership of more than 16 million worldwide, will host its General Conference on Easter Sunday.

At each session, only the speakers and their spouses will be present in the Conference Center, according to a statement on the Church website.

The broadcast will originate from the Church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah and will be broadcast globally on the internet.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, music for the conference will be pre-recorded from previous general conferences.

The Church of Jesus Christ has a membership of close to 600,000 in the Pacific region.

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