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How should religious people respond to the virus?

The worldwide coronavirus crisis has raised lots of important questions for people of faith, not the least of which are about the value of gathering for worship and about the mandate to care for one another.

Coronavirus-religA lot has changed quickly around the world in this regard, as this BBC story notes: "As concern over the spread of coronavirus grows, people around the world are changing the way they do things. Some have cut back on travel plans and are avoiding crowded spaces. Others have dropped greetings like handshakes and hugs for elbow bumps and foot shakes.

"Churches, mosques, temples and synagogues are also changing rituals in an effort to contain the spread of the virus. So how easy is it to maintain the sense of spiritual connection when the way you worship has to change?"

For other stories about how various religious traditions are responding the spread of the new coronavirus, click here (Episcopal) and here (Jewish) and here (Catholics in Italy).

The issue should cause people to re-examine why they gather for worship and what they do there. In other words, this is one of those rare opportunities to go back to basics and question what often never gets questioned.

In some ways, people are built for worship. Which is to say, they are built for relationship, not just with other people but with the divine, however they understand that divine. But does that -- or should that -- always mean coming together with other people on a weekly basis in a confined space? (Discuss among yourselves.)

Beyond that, what obligation do religious people have to become part of the solution to treating people victimized by COVID-19 and to comforting them and their families?

We all have heard stories of devout missionaries and others who leaped into help people with various illnesses and became infected with those illnesses themselves. Is that what's called for here? Do we sacrifice ourselves to save others?

Well, we have some pretty persuasive religious models for that, but will individual and risky actions mean anything in the long run compared with working toward systemic answers through organizations and governments that can and should have a broader view?

In other words, are we better off contributing to such broader efforts financially or in other ways or should we volunteer to be present in vulnerable nursing homes? (Again, discuss among yourselves.)

I'm not offering clear-cut answers here because I'm not sure there are any. But if you take your faith seriously, these are the kinds of discussions you should be having.

And not just within your nuclear family but with your family of faith, too.

(By the way, it also would be a good idea to remember the first thing angels in angel school learn to say: "Fear not." Let's not panic, folks. Let our medical response to a virus be based on science. Let our religious response to a virus be based on the morals our faiths have taught us.)

(The image here today came from this CNN site.)

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'GET OUT THERE,' SAYS THE POPE

Pope Francis, in one of the epicenters of coronavirus, tells priests they should get out and minister to the people -- including people struck by the virus. It's what priests -- and all clergy -- do. They respond to people in need. If they're not doing it in appropriate ways they probably should give up their ordination.

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