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Editorial: Remote worship is the responsible way this holy season

Holy Week pilgrimages to El Santuario de Chimayó involving thousands of worshipers walking for hours, even days, have made it one of the most prominent Catholic pilgrimages in the nation. And the pilgrimage to Tomé Hill south of Los Lunas in which Christians make the trek to offer special prayers is another Good Friday tradition. The pilgrimages – along with sunrise services, egg hunts, seders and family get-togethers – are quintessentially spring in New Mexico. And because of COVID-19, they need to be put on hold.

Church leaders have canceled the pilgrimages and the New Mexico Department of Transportation won’t provide assistance along the routes to either shrine. State Police and sheriff deputies will instead ask walkers to go home.

Archbishop John Wester advises Christians to make their homes their holy places during Holy Week. Many churches will stream Holy Week services online, and synagogues have also canceled in-person community seders and shifted to online services, such as Albuquerque’s Nahalat Shalom and Congregation Albert. These and other changes too many to mention put the health and safety of followers first.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has prohibited all gatherings of groups larger than five people, and while she acknowledges staying home is “a terrible hardship for the faithful,” she says the public health risk of large gatherings is her top concern. As we learn more of asymptomatic community spread of COVID-19, and of social distancing being key to limiting infections and thus deaths, it is essential every New Mexican embrace the simple idiom “better safe than sorry.” Don’t put yourself or anyone you care about in the position of having to live with the question “what if we had just stayed home?”

The governor and the state Department of Health said this week that New Mexico’s faith-based organizations play an important role in slowing the spread of COVID-19, especially among high-risk populations. An advisory encourages religious groups to live-stream or post pre-recorded services on social media, consider holding drive-in services at which attendees remain in their vehicles, videoconference regular small group meetings, and mail newsletters and daily teaching guides.

And, God bless them, faith-based groups have stepped up and put together innovative ways to worship remotely.

Wester will live-stream Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter services. Calvary Church in Albuquerque, which normally hosts a sunrise service at the UNM football stadium with more than 20,000 people, is planning online-only Good Friday services, hosting drive-in Easter morning services in its parking lot and broadcasting Good Friday and Easter services on TV. Sagebrush Church in Albuquerque is presenting the Stages of the Cross on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and the church app. Congregation B’nai Israel in Albuquerque will live-stream its Second Night Community Passover Seder on Thursday and is promoting “seder to go” take-out meals.

Worshipping and fellowship are communal. And houses of worship, like private businesses, need patrons to keep the lights on. But as Pastor Vince Torres of Blaze Christian Fellowship in Santa Fe says, we can be spiritually faithful and socially responsible citizens. Those that keep their doors closed while offering alternatives, and parishioners who limit in-person contact, are performing a public service in helping to contain the coronavirus while spreading hope across a beleaguered world that needs it badly. And they are literally helping ensure a rebirth for all when this pandemic abates.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.