Amid outbreak of coronavirus, religious institutions tweak practices to avoid spread

Andrew J. Campa, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

LOS ANGELES -- At St. Frances X. Cabrini Roman Catholic Church in Yucaipa, Calif., the holy water fonts have been left dry. Parishioners must now bring their own water and ask the priest to bless it.

Congregants at the IKAR Jewish synagogue will now get their Saturday communal meals not by preparing their own plates, but courtesy of gloved workers.

At the Islamic Center of Southern California near Koreatown, the faithful are being encouraged to avoid greeting one another with embraces and handshakes. Because worship involves contact not only with other people but with the carpet when bowing toward Mecca, the sick are being asked to pray at home.

In places of worship, across various faiths and religious denominations, rituals and practices are being tweaked to adapt to the outbreak of a disease that thrives on nothing more than close human contact. Religious communities built on the idea of gathering, celebrating, greeting, grieving and praying in a spirit of togetherness find themselves trying to create distance to fend off the spread of illness.

Across California, more than 80 people have been infected with the coronavirus. In the U.S., there have been at least 381 confirmed cases, with most centered in Washington state, where 108 people have tested positive and 16 have died. More than 100,000 people have become infected worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

On Friday, the Los Angeles Archdiocese recommended a halt to the use of cups of wine for Communion and urged draining holy water fonts that did not include a filtration system. The archdiocese also asked churchgoers to accept the Communion wafer in their hand, instead of directly in the mouth, and to refrain from shaking or holding hands.


At the San Gabriel Mission, about 40 participants in Thursday morning's Vietnamese-language Mass said hello through bows -- avoiding any hugs and kisses.

After the service, they gathered to eat kung pao chicken and shrimp and white rice to bid farewell to a visiting priest, Joseph Ngo Van Lang, who would leave that night for the Philippines.

"We cannot hug, so we bow and wave," said Catherine Pham, 60, of San Gabriel.

Within seconds of entering the Islamic Center on Wednesday evening, 62-year-old Ahmed Nettabai greeted fellow worshipers with hugs, laughs, pats on the back and handshakes. The Santa Monica resident had arrived to attend sunset prayer, known as Maghrib.


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