Silent night for India’s Christians as Covid curfew shuts churches for Christmas

·3-min read

Many of India's 32 million Christians will celebrate Christmas mass online, with Covid-19 curfews in place and several state governments placing a 50-person limit on attendance at church services.

The Christian community in India has been urged to keep celebrations of Christmas and New Year simple and low-key as precautionary measures against Covid-19.

The western state of Maharashtra has announced a seven-hour night curfew across the state from December 22 to January 5 and Mumbai churches will not hold open-air masses with the number of visitors in churches strictly monitored.

The masses have to be conducted by 8 pm.

“The pandemic has cast a shadow on the year end celebrations. We will adhere to the restrictions that have been announced,” a church official told RFI.

Restaurants, pub, clubs and resorts will remain open and function normally adhering to Covid-19 guidelines.

Similarly the north-eastern states of the country which boasts of a strong Christian population, midnight mass and services that are usually held at different churches, will be held with limited attendance.

“The yuletide spirit is missing and we know that outdoor festivities will not happen. It will be a homely affair,” Anita David, a school teacher from Nagaland told RFI.

Authorities have told devotees that celebrations can be viewed through the live telecast to be relayed through the local cable channels and social media during the late night services.

“The Shillong Presbyterian Church has already tied up with a local TV cable network to show the night sermons from the main church,” said Reverend John Mudur.

There will be no traditional Christmas religious services like midnight mass and pealing of the bell in the neo-Gothic style Anglican Christ Church on Shimla's Ridge in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh.

However, morning prayers will be held twice inside the church on Christmas by following health protocols and after that it will be closed for the audience.

Built in 1857, the Anglican Christ Church is said to be northern India's second oldest one.

Even the tourist state of Goa, where revelry and festivities are the norm in the end of the year season, has seen muted celebrations with very few tourists visiting the coastal state. Thirty per cent of the state’s population is Christian.

“The mass in our church will have only 100-seat capacity. In order to ensure that more persons can participate in the prayer services, we will hold three more services on Christmas," said Fr Walter D'Sa, the parish priest of one of the state's significant churches, ‘Our Lady of Immaculate Conception’.

A special prayer service will also be held for senior citizens.

Christianity is the third largest religion in India after Hinduism and Islam with over 32 million followers constituting over 2.4 per cent of the country’s 1.3 billion plus population.

India's Covid-19 caseload crossed 10 million with 24,712 new infections being reported in a day, while the death count increased to 146,756 with 312 new deaths, said the health ministry.