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In the City of Holy Faith, Santa Feans of all spiritual stripes are changing the way they worship as gatherings of more than five people have been banned to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
As Easter approached, Lisa Bonney sat in her home and participated in the Holy Thursday mass at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Las Vegas, New Mexico, via Facebook.
“It’s because of my faith that I’m getting through this,” Bonney said of the coronavirus crisis.
In addition to streaming services on Facebook, some New Mexico congregations have been thinking outside the box by holding drive-in services where people come to the church parking lot and watch the video service on their cellphones or on a giant screen.
Christian Life Church has been offering drive-thru prayer, according to a post on the Santa Fe Bulletin Board from church staffer Lauren Stewart.
Churches, synagogues and other places of worship have been proactive in letting their members know the risks of gathering together at this time. On March 31, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe launched a campaign called “This Holy Week, HOME is the Holy Place.”
In a statement, Archbishop John Wester said, “In unity with all Christians, we call on the faithful to make HOME the Holy Place for the sake of all families during this COVID-19 pandemic. All are strongly urged to heed the advice of our global scientists, medical and public health experts to practice social distancing.”
Two weeks earlier, Wester announced the cancellation of group pilgrimages to El Santuario de Chimayó and Tomé Hill, important traditions among New Mexico’s devout Catholics.
Despite warnings from the New Mexico Department of Transportation discouraging the faithful from visiting the sacred site, a handful decided to make the trek. On Thursday afternoon, two pilgrims were spotted in Nambé, while another was seen in Chimayó.
Unlike in previous years, safety arrangements along pilgrimage routes and traffic control were not provided by NMDOT. Message boards were put up telling the public to turn back and stay home.
It’s hard to prevent New Mexicans from practicing their faith, whether they be Christians, Jews, Buddhists or New Agers, said Ana Pacheco, author of “A History of Spirituality in Santa Fe, The City of Holy Faith.”
Every transplant that Pacheco interviewed for her 2016 book, which she calls the only one of its kind, said they had come to Santa Fe because of its mountain vortex.
“It didn’t matter if they were a conservative Baptist or a New Ager, they all believed something in the air made it easier to practice spirituality here,” she said.
Although she was raised as a Catholic in Santa Fe, Pacheco learned later in life that she was a Sephardic Jew. Her ancestors were conversos, Spanish Jews who came to New Mexico to escape persecution in Spain and then converted to Catholicism. However, Pacheco moves in Buddhist circles today and labels herself a “recovering Catholic.”
Pacheco, who is a Lyft and Uber driver when she’s not writing books, said that, based on her interactions with friends, family and customers, Santa Feans are holding up pretty well during the coronavirus crisis.
“Of course, I’ve had a few people tell me that COVID-19 is mentioned in the Book of Revelations, but most people I’ve talked to have used this time at home to turn inward and become more reflective, more meditative,” she said.
Technology has made it easier to keep the faith during the crisis, Pacheco said. “I have a cousin who normally is an usher at a church. He’s been watching mass on TV every day. He’s doing OK.”
On Passover (April 9), Rabbi Neil Amswych and members of the Temple Beth Shalom in Santa Fe held their first communal seder online. The feast celebrates the anniversary of the Jewish exodus from Egyptian slavery more than 3,000 years ago.
But old-school technology, such as the phone, also has an important place in spirituality during this time. In the midst of the coronavirus, Rabbi Amswych said members of Temple Beth Shalom are calling each other a lot to check in.
“At times like these, the real strength of communities like ours becomes apparent. Those who are housebound are being supported by those who are able to go out. It’s a wonderful thing to see,” he said.
Asked if a crisis like this can deepen a person’s faith, Amswych said, “It depends on the person.”
“For some, this gives them time to slow down, to focus on personal and spiritual aspects of themselves, which might deepen their faith,” he said. “For others, though, this is a very difficult crisis and they might feel very isolated or alone. Everyone responds to this crisis differently and it is our role as faith communities to be there to support everyone.”
While some Santa Feans will be celebrating Easter today, others will be tuning in to a virtual half-day retreat conducted by Henry Shukman, associate Zen master at the Mountain Cloud Zen Center.
The session, which runs from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., is called “Working with Uncertainty and Anxiety,” an apt topic as many people face interruptions in income and worry if their jobs will be waiting for them after the crisis passes.
“Are there ways of turning around our experience of the global pandemic so it becomes an opportunity for deep growth in compassionate and awakened awareness?” asked Shukman. “The answer from meditation practice is a clear ‘yes.’ ”