Coronavirus concerns force places of worship to change practices

Published: Mar. 17, 2020 at 7:25 PM CDT
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Places of worship around the world are practicing social distancing as the coronavirus outbreak grows, and religious leaders in Madison are following suit to keep their congregations safe.

On Tuesday, Bishop Donald Hying of the Dioces of Madison suspending holding public mass. Previously, Hying had lifted the obligation to attend Sunday mass, but masses were still being held.

"As a Catholic bishop, that's the hardest thing that I could possibly do because for us as Catholics, mass is everything," Hying said.

Catholic churches will still be open for private prayer, and priests will still be available for confession, Hying said. He also encourage people to pray at home.

"Watch mass on television through the wonders of technology, to pray the rosary," Hying said.

Other religious organizations have taken similar measures. Temple Beth El has closed its doors and moved to virtual services.

"It is disappointing not to have a community of people sitting in my sanctuary on a Friday evening, but I know that that ultimately is helpful," said Temple Beth El Rabbi Jonathan Biatch.

Biatch said, however, the first virtual service went well, drawing about 100 people online. Biatch said that is more than their usual crowd at in-person services.

Temple Beth El also cancelled their Passover celebration.

"Sadly, we won't be having a Passover Seder, here in the building, with food," Biatch said.

The Masjid us-Sunnah mosque on Madison's west side ended Friday prayers and is minimizing the size of its congregation on other days.

"We cancelled all our activities in the Masjid, all the gatherings, all the lectures," said the imam Alhagie Jallow.

The mosque is considering shutting its doors completely, even with Ramadan, a major holiday, coming up in April.

"The worship cannot be a reason to spread this disease," Jallow explained.

Through all of this, organizations are still trying to keep members connected.

"We are reaching out to our more vulnerable congregants who are at home, who are sheltering in place, and to make sure that they know that they're connected to our community even though they can't come into our building," Biatch explained.

However, these decisions are not easy.

"I couldn't sleep because these are not your personal decisions, these are religious decisions and they are on your shoulders," Jallow said.

Religious leaders aid they hope to welcome bigger congregations back by early to mid-April, before some of those major holidays like Easter and Ramadan. However, they acknowledged that things are changing quickly, and people may need to celebrate at home.