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During coronavirus outbreak, priests master livestream at French cathedral

Priests Philippe Rochas, foreground, and Jean-Benoit de Beauchene pack up their equipment after livestreaming Mass from the St. Vincent de Paul church in Marseille, southern France, on March 22.
(Associated Press)

Recent restrictions on gatherings in France to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus have forced religious communities to adapt the way they express their faith.

On a typical Sunday morning, Father Philippe Rochas greets roughly 350 worshippers as they trickle into the neo-Gothic St.-Vincent de Paul church in the heart of Marseille.

This Sunday, however, he sat hunched over a webcam as he and his fellow priests prepared an empty meeting room to livestream Sunday Mass directly to the screens of parishioners confined at home.

From Catholic churches to Jewish synagogues, Islamic mosques and other religious institutions, many of the faithful are being asked to adapt to changes to practices and rituals in the face of coronavirus.

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“I already realize that the people who see us online are very happy to have this service, as a kind of comfort,” Rochas told the Associated Press.

As he delivered a sermon to just over 70 live viewers Sunday morning, one commented on the site: “glory be to God, amen,” followed by a prayer emoji.

By the end of Sunday, the video had accumulated more than 500 views on its Facebook page.

The French government imposed confinement rules in the past week. Those rules do not list churches as valid destinations on the permission forms required to leave confinement. But Rochas decided to leave his church open for individuals to come and pray, up to a maximum of 20 people, who must respect the social distancing measures and barriers put into place. Lines of warning tape and red X’s cover the rows of polished seating at the church of St.-Vincent-de-Paul.

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“We miss the real contact with our parishioners, but I strongly believe that in this new situation, we will reach new people,” he said.

Southern California Catholic churches are taking flu-season precautions such as discouraging shaking or holding hands during service.

France is seeing a rapid rise in cases of the virus, with the third-largest number of deaths in Europe.

Most people quickly recover from the virus after experiencing only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.


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