Amid pandemic, Christians celebrate an Easter like no other

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Pope Francis, small white figure at center left, delivers his blessing during Easter Sunday Mass inside an empty St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, Sunday, April 12, 2020. Pope Francis and Christians around the world marked a solitary Easter Sunday, forced to celebrate the most joyful day in the liturgical calendar amid the sorrowful reminders of the devastation wrought by the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (Andreas Solaro/Pool Photo via AP)

CHICAGO – Christians celebrated Easter Sunday isolated in their homes by the coronavirus while pastors preached the faith’s joyous news of Christ's resurrection to empty pews. St. Peter’s Square was barricaded to keep out crowds, while one Florida church drew a large turnout for a drive-in service in a parking lot.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, released from the hospital after a week of treatment for COVID-19, paid an emotional tribute to the country's National Health Service, saying its doctors and nurses had saved his life “no question.” He especially thanked two nurses who stood by his bedside for 48 hours “when things could have gone either way.”

The strangeness of this Easter was evident at the Vatican. St. Peter’s Square, where tens of thousands would normally gather to hear Pope Francis, was empty. Francis celebrated Easter Mass inside the largely vacant basilica, calling for global solidarity to confront the “epochal challenge” of the pandemic and urging political leaders to give hope and opportunity to people who've lost jobs.

Worldwide, families who normally would attend church in their Easter best and later enjoy festive group meals stayed home. Police checkpoints in Europe and outside closed churches elsewhere left the faithful watching services online or on TV.

Some U.S. pastors went ahead with in-person services despite state or local bans on large gatherings.

At the Happy Gospel Church in Bradenton, Florida, about 100 cars carrying 250 people gathered in the parking lot to hear Pastor Bill Bailey’s Easter sermon. Some sat in lawn chairs or on tailgates, but families stayed at least 6 feet apart; those in their cars occasionally honked to convey agreement with Bailey's remarks.

In Louisiana, a pastor who is facing misdemeanor charges for holding services despite a ban on gatherings, said people from every state and all but one continent attended his Easter service Sunday morning.

“My hope is not in a vaccine for a virus, but all my hope is in Jesus,” Rev. Tony Spell said during the service shown online at Life Tabernacle Church in the city of Central.