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Empty churches, online worship expected for Easter amid coronavirus

Pope Francis celebrates the ceremony of the Good Friday Passion of the Lord Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Friday. Photo by Stefano Spaziani/UPI
Pope Francis celebrates the ceremony of the Good Friday Passion of the Lord Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Friday. Photo by Stefano Spaziani/UPI | License Photo

April 10 (UPI) -- With the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus pandemic expected to peak over the weekend, most of the country will be firmly under stay-at-home orders on Easter Sunday.

That means that millions of Americans will be forced to observe one of Christianity's holiest days of the year eschewing family gatherings and public worship for non-traditional observances.

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Modeling by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington predicts the United States will experience its largest single-day death toll from COVID-19 on Sunday. The institute says 2,212 people will likely die that day and thereafter the daily death toll should dwindle, hitting zero on June 14.

With some 95 percent of Americans under stay-at-home orders, most Christians won't be sitting in the pews come Easter Sunday.

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In Kansas, Republican lawmakers voted Wednesday to reverse Gov. Laura Kelly's restrictions on religious gatherings to allow people to go to church on Easter. Kelly, who is seeking a court challenge to the Legislative Coordinating Council's vote, called it "shockingly irresponsible."

"There are real life consequences to the partisan games Republicans played today," she said.

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In other states, parishioners are going to have to find unique ways to worship.

Pope Francis prays on the sagrato of an empty St. Peter's Square on March 27. Photo by Stefano Spaziani/UPI
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In Italy, the Vatican plans to televise a number of Catholic services, including Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at 5 a.m. EDT followed by Pope Francis' Urbi et orbi.

In addition to being aired on television and radio, the Vatican plans to stream all its Easter week events on its YouTube channel.

On Good Friday, the liturgy of the passion and the adoration of the cross is scheduled to begin at noon at St. Peter's Basilica. The stations of the cross will then take place at 3 p.m. in St. Peter's Square. Among those taking part in the ceremony in the square will be workers from the Vatican Healthcare Department.

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On Holy Saturday, there will be a vigil starting at 3 p.m. in St. Peter's Basilica. Unlike previous years, there won't be any baptisms performed during the liturgy.

Meanwhile, evangelist Franklin Graham plans to deliver an Easter message at 10 a.m. EDT from the Samaritan's Purse field hospital in New York City's Central Park.

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In Washington, D.C., the National Cathedral is streaming its Good Friday liturgy starting at noon EDT and its Easter Sunday service starting at 11:15 a.m.

For those who wish to view or listen in on services at their home churches, Facebook has created a Faith on Facebook Resource Hub, which connects places of worship with members of the community. Those wishing to access live streams aren't required to have Facebook accounts.

In Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was closed last month to halt the spread of COVID-19. Easter is one of the busiest periods for the church and surrounding Christian communities. It's celebrated twice according to Catholic and Orthodox traditions.

Christians carry a cross on the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday in the Old City of Jerusalem on April 19, 2019. File Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI

The Via Dolorosa, the way of the cross, which many pilgrims walk while carrying large wooden crosses, is empty.

"This year, in short, there are cancellations, postponements and modifications: It will be an Easter week with the most live streaming to date," Wadie Abunassar, media adviser to the Catholic bishops in Jerusalem, told Deutsche Welle newspaper.

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"There will be no public processions, especially not along the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday. This is to keep people safe."

It might be a little easier to keep up with some Easter traditions at home, but on a smaller scale.

Public health experts are recommending that people practice social distancing, meaning inviting guests over for Easter dinner isn't an option.

"The social distancing doesn't really work, if you say, 'Oh, we're going to have my older grandmother and grandfather come over so they can be with the kids, but we're all going to sit 6 feet apart. Unless you can clean your entire home, you're not really 6 feet apart from this contaminated environment," Dr. Daniel Griffin, an infectious disease expert at Columbia University, told Fox News.

"So holidays are really tricky and they're going to be really tough this year."

Many Jewish families observed Passover on Wednesday with immediate family seders and gatherings over video services like Zoom.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday assured children that the Easter Bunny is an essential worker during the lockdowns imposed amid the pandemic. The Tooth Fairy, too.

"They can keep doing their jobs even though the rest of us are staying home," she said. "They're following all of the procedures we gave them to make sure they can stay safe and healthy."

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Bass Pro Shops marketing manager David Smith (R) carries a box of donated face masks into Mercy Health in Chesterfield, Mo., on May 13. The company is donating 1 million FDA-approved ASTM Level 1 Procedure Face Masks to healthcare workers and first responders working on the front lines of the pandemic. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

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