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COVID-19: Exploring Faith Dimensions
Taking Stock in the Midst of Mourning 

The novel coronavirus continues to claim lives all around the globe, even as preventative measures have become the new norm in many settings. This week we mourn, among the many thousands, the death of Aritana Yawalapiti, chief of the Yawalapiti people in Brazil. He was a tireless advocate and involved in efforts to raise money for Indigenous communities hit hard by the coronavirus. We also focused this week at Eid al-Adha celebration adaptations, as well as faith-based organizations and religious leaders working to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and compounding challenges, including hunger, political crises, racism, and education. Specific reports come from Egypt, Peru, Kenya, and the United States. We also share several stock-taking articles about the complex roles religious communities are playing during this crisis.
At sundown on July 30, Muslims across the world celebrated one of the principal festivals, Eid al-Adha (Tabaski in West Africa), which commemorates the story of Ibrahim’s sacrifice of Ishmael in the Quran and the end of hajj, an annual pilgrimage by millions of Muslims to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia (last week we noted the historic limitations on the hajj this year). In Egypt this year, public gatherings and in-person mosque services for Eid al-Adha were banned. Instead, worshippers watched and listened to last year’s prayers on TV and the radio.
In Peru, during a political crisis at a time in which the country has been hit hard by COVID-19, the Peruvian Episcopal Conference (CEP) stressed that the country "is experiencing times of suffering and pain due to the pandemic" and that it is urgent "to promote national unity." The bishops called on political forces "to seek consensus" and the well-being of all Peruvians. In Kenya the National Muslim COVID-19 Response Committee, comprised of a consortium of more than 30 organizations and institutions, aims to create a cohesive, community-based pandemic response. The Muslim Psychologist and Councillor Association (MPCA) offers mental health and psychosocial support to religious and traditional communities, complementing government and Ministry of Health efforts in fighting the pandemic while including culturally sensitive measures for the Muslim community. More broadly in Kenya, the Interfaith Council on the National Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic has been developing guidelines for reopening places of worship. Some, however, are calling the guidelines too restrictive. In the United States, an interfaith panel addressed how faith communities have been confronting COVID-19, racism, and social unrest. 
School reopening has also been at the forefront of reports this week, from the announcement that Kenya would be cancelling its school year entirely, to Governor Cuomo announcing that schools in New York can reopen. Religious schools have also been grappling with whether or not to reopen in the coming weeks and how to confront the health and economic challenges of wide-ranging scenarios. Many Catholic schools across the United States have decided they want to get back into the classroom. "Most are trying to do it in person," Kathy Mears, the CEO of the National Catholic Education Association, said. "It's what most people want, keeping in mind however that everybody understands that the safety of children comes first, and the safety of teachers comes first." Jewish day school leaders are calling for a more significant coordinated Jewish response and support from the community for frontline workers, which will soon include teachers and staff members in schools that decide to reopen. 

More broadly, Agnes Mueller looks at what we can learn from past literary depictions of pandemics and faith. Articles by Jordan Kelly-Linden and Azza Karam this week look at religious responses to the pandemic over the past several months, capturing the complex ways in which religion has impacted and been impacted by the COVID-19 emergency and contributed in both positive and negative ways.
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