The fear, despair and isolation resulting from coronavirus has resulted in something akin to a global spiritual crisis, as the world’s largest religions seek to provide solace to the faithful during the pandemic.
The illness began to spread as many Buddhists were preparing to observe the Lunar New Year, forcing temples across Asia to choose between continuing regular services or shutting their doors. A Buddhist hall in Hong Kong apologized this week for not closing its temple sooner, after it was discovered that 19 people connected to the institution had been infected.
In Taiwan, Buddhist sermons are being live-streamed to worshippers who are trying to avoid mass gatherings.
The Tsuglagkhang Complex, which houses the holiest sites in Tibetan Buddhism, was closed on Wednesday in response to the spread of Covid-19. The religious site will be shuttered until at least April 15. The office for the Dalai Lama also stressed that a viral social media post, which shares purported instructions from the leader of Tibetan Buddhism on how to treat coronavirus, was in fact a hoax with no factual basis.
Christian sects around the world are reeling from the virus. Catholicism has been particularly hard-hit, largely due to the spread of coronavirus through Italy. Vatican City has become a near ghost town, with Pope Francis live-streaming addresses on screens in St. Peter’s Square in hopes that crowds will be smaller without his physical presence.
Rome has suspended all Catholic masses in the city – reportedly the first time since 1155, during a revolt against the papacy.
Other Christian sects have taken similar measures. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church) announced last week that it was suspending gatherings worldwide “until further notice” due to the virus.
In Singapore, Hindus have been forced to cancel part of their annual Panguni Uthiram festival, which includes a foot and chariot procession. The religious event usually draws around 10-15 thousand pilgrims each year.
Religious sites across the Hindu world have also been closed to the public. In India, one of the most visited shrines in Mumbai, the Siddhivinayak Temple, was recently closed until further notice.
Despite the risk, worshipers continued to flock to temples, forcing Indian authorities to take action. The Tuljabhavani Temple in Maharashtra was closed after 13,000 devotees visited the shrine on Sunday.
The virus has imperiled the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are expected to take. The Saudi government has already called off another pilgrimage, the Umrah, and all mosques in the country have been shuttered, with holy sites in Mecca and Medina as exceptions. Canceling the Hajj – which falls during July and August this year – would also have huge economic repercussions for tens of thousands of worshippers who have already paid non-refundable deposits for their travel to Mecca.
The situation is also grim for Muslims traveling to holy sites in Iran. The Islamic Republic has been in nationwide lockdown in an attempt to stomp-out coronavirus.
The traditional Islamic call to prayer has also been modified to cope with the virus. In Kuwait, a mosque’s loudspeaker urged locals to “pray in your homes” instead of the usual “come to prayer.”
For many practicing Jews, Covid-19 upended Purim services and festivities, which were canceled or scaled down.
Israel’s chief rabbis issued religious edicts last week instructing Jews to obey health officials’ instructions aimed at stopping the spread of the pandemic. The rabbis said that Jews should avoid visiting the Western Wall and holding mass prayers there. The religious leaders said that “every man and woman should pray near their homes, until the crisis passes and mercy comes from Heaven.”
The virus prompted one Jewish commentator to call for the creation of “Virtual Shabbat” and a more general “Virtual Jewish Experience” to assist Jews in quarantine or practicing social distancing.