Holy Week has also knelt down to the Coronavirus pandemics. In Spain, where these dates have a strong cultural importance, the population lived these days surrounded by an awkward ambiance. Public masses were canceled, again with processions and other massive events related to this festivity.
The festival days in April, remained at the end in simple numbers marked in red. The streets were not filled with the passion and emotion corresponding to this event. The Nazarenes were not walking around the corners of the cities wearing their capirotes (conical headwears). The costaleros were not able to raise their virgin, and carry her in procession,
to the delight of the people. Holy Week in Spain lost its essence this year, the details that make it so unique.
Picture in the left: a group of Costaleros carrying a throne. Picture in the right: two Nazarenes wearing a Capirote in a procession in Málaga (Andalusia). Photos retrieved from ailmalaga.com
The Coronavirus was relentless with the events of Holy Week, which were canceled throughout the country. The pandemic that is putting the world in check this 2020, has forced the suspension of public masses, processions and acts related to these dates. Spain, a country with a high Catholic tradition, where almost 70% of the population declare they belong to this confession, had to put the current health alarm before the faith.
The decision to cancel these events was not clear until the announcement of the state of alarm application on March 13, a measure that forced the population to remain in their homes. The decisions of the different city councils throughout the country to cancel the festivities began to be known days after the confinement was decreed, erasing any hope of holding the events.
REACTIONS TO THE CANCELLATION
Citizens from Spain have been forced to stay at their houses since the state of alarm application. Plunged into one of the most strict confinements in Europe, where even children were not able to have a walk with their parents and people could not play any outdoor sport, the decision was prewritten. The Government, its territorial delegations (organizations that
lead the direction and supervision of all National Administration’s services in its own territory), and the Church itself, agreed on canceling all massive events related to Holy Week.
Cristina Navarro, Deputy Secretary General of the Government Delegation in the Foral Community of Navarre, and Josetxo Vera, Press Officer of the Archbishopric of Pamplona and Tudela (Foral Community of Navarre) address that once the state of alarm was set in, there was no point in maintaining the crowded events. Both point out that the situation “took
us all by surprise”. Navarro blames it on the fact that “we saw what was happening before, but you think it won’t reach your house”, while Vera stresses that the pandemic reached the territory with “all its rawness”.
The Deputy Secretary General stressed that one of the authorities’ priorities was to find a kind of balance to make everyone happy. A scale in which agglomerations could be avoided, and at the same time the Catholic community could be satisfied: “We have tried to reconcile health with faith. For a better territorial control, the Autonomous Communities were given the opportunity to regulate also other religious ceremonies such as funeral regiments”. Navarro, in turn, highlighted the collaboration of the Catholic Church, which has introduced extraordinary regulations to strengthen the health standards imposed by the administration.
Josetxo Vera also wanted to highlight the role that the Church has had in supporting the norms imposed by the Executive. The Press Officer recalled that the Church has facilitated and relaxed certain ecclesiastical rules, going hand in hand with the laws established in the state of alarm: “From the beginning, we have accepted the rules and made them tougher. We
decided not to call the faithful to public masses, although the churches remained open, and we lifted the obligation to attend mass.
In addition, Vera emphasized that the Church has used “pastoral creativity” during these days. Church has promoted to priests all over the country to adapt their religious activity to Corona times. As a result, masses and rosary prayers corresponding to these dates were moved to the digital world, as well as other events such as pilgrimages. It is a procession in Palm Sunday in Seville, that took place last year and was broadcasted by Youtube (Video from El Llamador Sevillano).
In general, the Church has been completely receptive to the measures approved with the Government, although Navarro points out that there has been a small section that has not been so collaborative. A small fraction of the evangelical community, a religious movement that is part of Christianity – although different from Catholicism – continued to hold public masses, although they followed strictly the recommendations given by the Government.
However, the Government delegation contacted this faction, and they managed to get them to follow the path marked out by the Catholics, introducing more restrictions than those contained in the law.
THE FAITH, BENEFITED BY THE LAW?
In spite of the cordiality between the government and religious authorities, there were moments when the controversy jumped. A clear example was the denunciation by several citizens on social networks of the entrance of parishioners in the Cathedral of Pamplona on Good Friday, one of the most important days of Holy Week. Several users expressed their anger regarding the situation, of people who decided to go to Church, despite the fact that the country was still under strict confinement for a month.
This action, as previously mentioned, was and still is covered by the law. It is included in Royal Decree 463/2020, which details the rules that would be put into effect following the declaration of the state of alarm. Specifically, Article 11 is related to the cult and its operation during the state of alarm.
ARTICLE 11 OF ROYAL DECREE 463/2020: Attendance at places of worship and civil and religious ceremonies, including funerals, is subject to the adoption of organisational measures consisting of avoiding crowds of people, depending on the size and characteristics of the places, in such a way as to ensure that those attending are able to respect the distance between them of at least one meter.
As for the incident, different opinions can be seen. Cristina Navarro admits that, on a personal level, she did not feel it was a “responsible” response, although she understands the attitude of the parishioners. For his part, Josetxo Vera did have a more radical opinion on the matter. He was adamant about citizens’ complaints. He was annoyed with the people
who showed their disagreement, although at no time did he call the action of the parishioners irresponsible. According to the Press Officer, “the people and the Church just followed the law”. At the same time, he pointed out that in view of a possible privileged place of the Church in the Law, Vera recalled that the Church had relaxed its ecclesiastical norms to encourage its faithful to stay in their homes.
It is worth mentioning that Vera was “sympathetic” to those people who might feel offended by the situation, but he stressed that they did not make the laws: “There will be people who are not believers and who will be upset that the faithful can go to places of worship. There will be people who would rather have football stadiums or bars open than that. I understand
their position, but they must understand that we have not chosen to be in this way in the law, the government has decided that”.
LIVING FAITH AT HOME
The Church’s recommendations about staying home and supporting “pastoral creativity” seem to have had an effect, and the faithful have preferred to follow the Holy Week in alternative ways. Josetxo Vera himself has highlighted the use of digital tools such as Youtube or TikTok to impart the Eucharistic. María Llanos, a psychologist at the Methodos Clinical Psychology Center in Pamplona (Navarra), also pointed out this point: “I have seen in the media that the Church has made a commitment to the digital. These symbols have been brought closer to the people at home”.
Referring to this new way of living the faith, she also wanted to emphasize that following Masses from home is not something so strange, since it was normal to have religious broadcasts on both television and radio before the state of alarm. Thanks to these kinds of alternatives, Llanos has not seen a “great harm” to the mental health of people of faith. She believes that they have been able to follow religious events without major problems.
However, she wanted to highlight a pair of points of the confinement. First, she added that religious people might be in need of support, because of the crisis times we are getting through. Nonetheless, this support is not possible to be given, as parishioners are not able to go to church. Also, the psychologist wanted to remind believers that, due to the extraordinary
situation the country is experiencing, they have not been able to hold funeral celebrations in the traditional way:
“Funerals are one more way of mourning. It is important to be able to celebrate all the rites for that death. In this case, all types of celebration are postponed, and this can generate a special type of pain in the believer.”
It should be noted that in Spain, during the state of alarm, all types of wake have been prohibited, both in all types of facilities and in private homes. This measure was taken to try to stop the spread of the virus, as it is difficult to ensure the application of containment and distancing measures.
It seems increasingly clear that the world will have to learn to live with the coronavirus for a while, and the Church will be no exception. After an atypical Holy Week, the cult is still waiting for the news about the de-escalation, to know how to act. For the time being, the Spanish government outlined a plan for de-escalation, in which the cult will have to follow specific rules.
Spanish President Pedro Sánchez has released a deconfinement plan based on 4 stages. Each step is a bunch of measures that citizens will have to follow, in order to reach at the end of this process the “new normality”, that is expected to be reached by the end of June. Each stage states the rules that must be followed about limiting the number of people in public events or limiting the displacement inside the country.
A polemic has bounced back into the frontline as the phases of the deconfinement were launched. In this case, the core was located in “Phase 2”, the 3rd of the 4-steps plan proposed by the Government. In this phase, cult places will be able to host the parishioners, something they were already able to do during the confinement, with half of the place
capacity. During the same phase, other activities such as cinemas and theatres will also be] able to open, but just with a third of their capacity. This situation was seen as a way to preface faith to culture, and social media worked again as a fishing ground for criticism against the measure.
De-escalation plan launched by Spanish Government. 4-step plan, detailed description on how far will the ease of restriction go in each phase. In the Fase 2 (Phase 2), there is findable the point of the previous paragraph: Cines, teatros y similares a ⅓ de su aforo (Cinemas, theatres, and comparable places, a third of their capacity) / Lugares de culto al 50% de su aforo (Cult places, 50% of their capacity). Graphic from jaen24h.com
Josetxo Vera reminded once again that “Church does not set the rules up” and pointed out that the measures concerning attendance to cult places are actually bad for them, as the new rules will prejudice the institution: “Before the deconfinement plan was launched, we were able to open the churches as long as we respected the health-care rules (2 meters between each person, etc). The deconfinement plan is shrinking our capacity to hold
people”. Afterward, he also tried to give an explanation of the broader opening of cult places. Comparing them to cinemas and theatres, Vera guessed that it could be more feasible to follow the rules in churches than in the mentioned places.
Josetxo Vera reminded once again that “Church does not set the rules up” and pointed out that the measures concerning attendance to cult places are actually bad for them, as the new rules will prejudice the institution: “Before the deconfinement plan was launched, we were able to open the churches as long as we respected the health-care rules (2 meters
between each person, etc). The deconfinement plan is shrinking our capacity to hold people”. Afterwards, he also tried to give an explanation of the broader opening of cult places. Comparing them to cinemas and theatres, Vera guessed that it could be more feasible to follow the rules in churches than in the mentioned places.
When asked if there is any intent to revive the Easter celebrations, the Press Officer replied that nothing of the sort is planned. Anyway, he did want to state that extraordinary masses will probably be held in honor of all those who died during the last weeks, even if it would be more of an initiative promoted by each parish than the Church institution itself.
Those will be the next steps of the Catholic Church: dealing with the exit of confinement rules and remembering all those who left us during the last weeks. Saying goodbye to the last strange weeks and start co-living with the Corona.