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COVID-19: Exploring Faith Dimensions
COVID-19 Surge in India; Mis(Information) from Religious Groups; Changing Faith Practices

A dangerous more contagious variant of COVID-19 is linked to a massive surge of cases in India, dominating news reports this week. On April 22, India reported more than 312,000 new infections, the highest daily total in any country since the pandemic began. This trend has continued, with reports that the true number of people affected is likely much higher. Unfortunately, the surge also coincided with several religious holidays, including the Kumbh Mela, an intermittent Hindu festival that is the world’s biggest religious gathering, which sparked fears of new superspreader events. Nepal’s dethroned king, Gyanendra Shah, and his wife, Komal, traveled to northern India for the Kumbh Mela. Three days after returning home the couple tested positive for the coronavirus. After reporting no new infections for much of January, Nepal, which shares a border with India that has remained open, is now averaging more than 1,100 cases a day.
A grand jury in the United States indicted a man and his three sons this week for masquerading as a church and selling a toxic bleach solution as a religious sacrament and as a “miracle” cure for COVID-19. Rates of vaccine refusers and hesitant people in many religious groups remain higher than among the general public, but research points to positive opportunities for faith-based campaigns and messages. Religious voices are also contributing actively to conversations about vaccine passports and inequities in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Diverse faith and interfaith leaders are strongly urging pharmaceutical companies and the G7 to commit to ensuring vaccines will be made universally available. 
Even as the focus remains on global vaccination campaigns, faith groups are also thinking about other challenges and changes in the near and long-term future. Catholic nuns are working to organize fundraisers for rent and utility relief for people affected by economic losses due to COVID-19. Other churches are contemplating the future of collection plates, missions, and other long-standing religious traditions, taking into account lessons learned during the pandemic. A report from Ireland details 32 in-depth interviews with clergy from across the island about pastoral care during the pandemic, practicing religion online, and other ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has changed and challenged the meaning and purpose of churches. These insights are relevant for other faith traditions as well, as everyone begins to contemplate what religious practice will look like in a post-COVID world. 

The 2021 annual report of the United States Commission on Religious Freedom was released last week. During a virtual news conference announcing the report, concerns about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected global religious freedom were highlighted. They cited persecuted Christians in South Korea and Shiite Muslims in Pakistan who were targeted and scapegoated for the virus’s spread, as well as the use of anti-Semitic imagery to protest European public health measures. Another interesting perspective on religious freedom debates in the United States during the pandemic comes from a chorister in Louisiana, who highlights the resounding message of interconnectedness.

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