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COVID-19: Exploring Faith Dimensions
Mixed News on Religious Fronts: Focus on Latin America, Refugees

Each country and region responds to COVID challenges in distinctive ways, and we will continue to shine spotlights on specific places each week. In Latin America, the celebration on November 1 of the Day of the Dead highlighted challenges related both to annual gatherings to pay respect to family members who have died, which were atypically subdued this year, and tensions related to burial practices during the COVID-19 emergency. Another worrying theme is diverse coronavirus misinformation that is spreading across Latin America, much connected to the Latina diaspora throughout the United States, making a serious pandemic still more difficult to manage.
Specific coverage of religious dimensions of the global refugee crisis during the COVID-19 emergencies has been uneven, though the overall picture highlights challenges of resource scarcity, delays in resettlement processes, and continuing precarious journeys with tragic loss of life. President-elect Joseph Biden’s announcement at a Jesuit Refugee Service event on November 12 that his administration will raise the annual ceiling for refugee settlement to 125,000 was a welcome piece of good news. Religious communities continue to mobilize both local and transnational resources to support refugees and internally displaced people (e.g. in Myanmar).
Another optimistic report comes from Senegal (alongside Senegal’s positive responses to the COVID pandemic overall). One of the world’s largest pilgrimage events - the Mouride Magal, which attracts millions to Touba - took place in mid-October without evidence of superspreading. A study and press reports attribute this to the strong leadership of the religious hierarchy, including consistent mask wearing and cooperation with government health officials; the youth of pilgrims was another positive factor. But the reports, describing it as a “miracle,” caution against “euphoria or premature jubilation.”
Less positively, a variety of tensions are linked to questions about government restrictions applying to religious institutions, with specific reports examining hospital policies in the United States. This piece on Africa’s “astral spirituality” explores how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting important rituals, with a rather pessimistic sense of actual and potential loss. Also worrying are reports of individual religious leaders stricken by COVID-19: two respected leaders from Albania (Orthodox and Catholic) and one from Serbia have been evacuated to other countries for treatment.
Social action efforts that are led by or include religious actors continue during the COVID-19 emergencies, with adaptations necessitated by the pandemic. Ongoing work by Catholic religious sisters to combat trafficking is an example (the G20 Interfaith Forum has highlighted the significance of partnerships to address this global scourge).

We continue to see research outputs focused on COVID-19, including some focused on religious dimensions. The Christian Journal for Global Health has a new issue focused on COVID-19 that complements its first special COVID-19 issue from April 2020. Articles explore epidemic responses, including “innovations, contextualizations, challenges, inspirations, and consolations...with opportunity for service, for sacrifice, for understanding, and for healing.”

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