COVID-19 IN FRANCE

French churches to celebrate low-key Easter under Covid lockdown

Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit carries the holy cross during Good Friday celebrations at the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Paris on April 2, 2021.
Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit carries the holy cross during Good Friday celebrations at the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Paris on April 2, 2021. © THOMAS COEX / AFP

Family festivities are out, but church ceremonies are in as France gets set to celebrate the Easter long weekend under yet another coronavirus lockdown.

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Churches are busy adjusting their services to meet sanitary and social distancing protocols, and to abide by the strict 7pm curfew being enforced across the country. 

"Easter is usually on Saturday night and Sunday morning," Father Hugues de Woillemont of the French Bishops' Conference told radio station Europe 1

“With the curfew, this Easter night mass will be celebrated either Saturday afternoon, or very early Sunday morning, around 6:30 in many parishes.”

There will be limited places in churches – with one seat out of three occupied – while parishioners will be required to wear masks and use hand sanitiser.

Some 3,600 adults are expected to be baptised throughout France on Sunday. Churches are counting on those people to limit the number of people invited to celebrate.

Church-goers 'relieved'

Given Easter ceremonies were cancelled last year as France went into its first lockdown, many Christians say they’re glad to be able to celebrate at all this year.

“It’s important to meet – even if we have to wear masks and keep our distance from each other,” one church-goer told Europe 1. “Watching the Mass on TV is not the same.”

The feast of Easter is the most important event on the Christian calendar, the French Catholic Church said in a twitter post.

"It celebrates the Resurrection of Christ, his victory over death which is the central element of the Christian faith. It is the oldest Christian feast and the central feast of the liturgical year."

Travel permitted

While the French have been told they may use the Easter weekend to change regions ahead of the school holidays – and the impending four weeks of lockdown – the tolerance will end there.

Strolls and trips are limited to a 10km radius from home, while gatherings of more than six adults are banned – as is the sale of alcoholic beverages for consumption in many public places.

Authorities have made it clear that only people from the same household may enjoy Easter lunch together. 

"There will be no exceptions for family meals,” said Prime Minister Jean Castex earlier this week, while Interior Gérald Darmanin said local police prefects had been instructed to deliver "firm punishment" to anyone flouting the rules over the Easter weekend.

On Thursday the number of Covid patients in intensive care rose in France, exceeding 5,100, with more than 50,600 new infections reported.

Almost 96,000 people have died in the country since the epidemic began.

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