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COVID-19: Exploring Faith Dimensions
Keeping Communities Safe and Respected

In many corners of the world, it seems that people from all faiths and creeds lend helping hands and provide comfort and necessities to those suffering most acutely from the pandemic. In Thailand, Buddhist monks are reversing their roles as receivers of alms by mobilizing to distribute basic necessities for lay communities experiencing economic difficulties. In normal times, lay Buddhists (followers of the faith who are not ordained) offer food and material goods to monks as an essential part of a daily practice of Buddhism; the belief is that by giving, individuals can receive or make merit. Thai monks are now working together to help the estimated 12% of the population that has lost their source of livelihood due to the pandemic.
In the United States, a new survey from the Pew Research Center shows that by a margin of 4-1, people overwhelmingly back pandemic-related restrictions for houses of worship and believe they should not be exempt due to their special status. The survey also found little indication that the outbreak will result in large-scale changes in American’s religious service habits in the future. More than 80% of U.S. adults say that when the outbreak is over, they will attend in-person at about the same rate as they did before the pandemic. Many worshipers also seem to be content with virtual offerings; one out of five online worshipers say they would watch more virtual services after the pandemic is over than before.
In Nigeria, many Christian worshippers expressed relief after Lagos churches began to reopen their doors. The century-old Catholic Holy Cross Cathedral in Lagos has added hand sanitizers at the entrance, guards taking temperatures, and ushers making sure masks are worn at all times. The cathedral generally fits around 2,500 worshippers, but it has had to impose limitations and many changes to ensure the health of the congregants. The impact of the closures and new regulations for places of worship in Nigeria, a devout nation, have rattled the religious community. Nigeria’s population is roughly evenly split between followers of Christianity and Islam. Last week, mosques were able to reopen their doors as well.
Muslims in Italy have faced difficulties burying the dead in a traditional Islamic funeral due to lockdown measures. In Italy, home to more than 2 million Muslims, only 60 of the 7,903 municipalities have a dedicated Islamic cemetery. Many of these cemeteries have limited burial spots due to the strained relationship between Italy’s Muslim community and local officials. The 2019 U.S. State Department report on religious freedom indicates that only five mosques in total are recognized by Italy’s regional governments and Muslim religious authorities; the rest are simply registered as NGOs. Muslim migrants in Italy often repatriate the body of the loved one to their country of origin, and roughly 90% of relatives of the dead prefer to repatriate the body. However, Italy stopped allowing bodies to be sent out of the country on March 1 and requires them to be buried on Italian soil. These measures also meant that holding the funeral within 24 hours of passing was not always honored in accordance with Islamic traditions.

Unfortunately, stories of flagrant anti-Semitism continue to be reported in the news. In Belgium, a daily newspaper has been criticized for running a cartoon that refers to an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Antwerp as “coronavirus village” due to its depiction of a tourist bus with an Orthodox Jewish man cycling nearby without a mask under the title “Go Visit Antwerp.” It should be of note that the Orthodox Jewish community in Antwerp had fewer than 20 deaths related to the virus thanks to early anti-contagion measures. Many Belgians are rightly worried that the publication of this offensive cartoon is especially painful due to Belgium’s already alarming and steadily increasing anti-Semitism in recent years.
Upcoming Event
August 27, 11:00 a.m. EDT
The COVID-19 Emergency in Sri Lanka: Strengths and Challenges

Sri Lanka stands out among countries for its progress on human development, but also, less positively, for bitter conflicts that have included religious dimensions. It also has one of the most respected faith-inspired movements: Sarvodaya, a leader in community-driven development that has built on Buddhist principles. Sarvodaya is deeply involved in Sri Lanka's challenges, listening to and supporting communities responding to natural disasters, ethnic conflicts, and now to the COVID-19 emergency. Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, president of Sarvodaya and a medical doctor by training, will use the COVID-19 emergency to frame his reflection on Sri Lanka's experience.

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