Easter is the second biggest holiday in the Czech Republic after Christmas, observed in most homes around the country. This year however, the Easter celebrations will be much more humble than in previous years, as churches around the country have been forced to cancel masses due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
I spoke to Jiří Kučera, a Roman Catholic priest from the central Moravian village of Valašská Polanka to find out how far the coronavirus outbreak has disrupted the daily life in his parish and to discuss the upcoming Easter celebrations.
“At this moment, right now, masses or the public liturgies are completely prohibited, although the church remains open for the people.
“My church is under reconstruction, we are doing some repairs and paintings, so I couldn’t use it anyway. We can have confessions elsewhere, in the parish hall and we can also visit sick people, although with some precautions, and bring them the Holy Communion.
“As for the masses, we have had to turn to modern technology. We have some smart people around, who are ready to prepare internet transmissions. We have already done it a couple of times.
“They are currently working on a big ceremony accompanied by music for Easter Sunday. We will stream the Easter mass from the church via the internet directly to peoples’ homes.”
You have already conducted a mass on-line. What kind of feedback did you receive from your parishioners?
“To my surprise, the response was very positive. The first mass was transmitted from our parish hall without any decorations, but it was followed by around 200 people.
“That was a big encouragement for us to do it again and prepare even better transmission next time. We actually purchased a high-quality video-camera, because until now we only used a mobile phone.
What about people who are not able to go online, for instance the elderly?
“We suppose that elderly people are never alone. We only have a few people who live alone and I have a couple of parishioners who have no TV. Those people obviously depend on their grandchildren or children.
“That happened with some of my elderly parishioners. They called me and told me they were helped by their children, so they could sit in front of the computer and enjoy the mass. So we trust it will be done the same way on this Easter Sunday. So I would say it’s pretty much under control.”
Would you say that going on-line can paradoxically helps you reach more people than you would in a church?
“In my case, I would say no. I have a small parish, which includes three villages with each of them having around 1,500 or 2,000 people. It’s a very traditional and conservative area in Central Moravia, where people like coming to the church.
“So maybe other parishes get a higher “turnout” via the internet, but my church is always full of people on Sunday and I also serve mass in another church about eight kilometres from here. My people always come gladly to the church and they miss that.
“They miss the physical contact, the opportunity to meet each other, enjoy the music, the collection and the prayer together. I believe technology cannot replace the physical contact which the priest has during the mass with the people.
“But it is a tool, it is good to use it, it is the only tool we have since masses have been prohibited, so we have to use it and we have to do what we can to reach as many people as possible.
It is now clear that churches will remain closed during Easter. How are you going to deal with the situation?
“Obviously, it will be very sad to spend Easter next to the TV or computer. We will certainly watch Pope Francis and we will transmit the Easter Mass from our church. It will be very unusual to celebrate the Easter Hallelujah without the possibility to go outside, be together and follow the old liturgies.
“But we will follow the government regulations and the advice of the Bishops’ Conference. That’s what the situation is like and we will simply have to survive this year.”
“When I was a small boy, my grandmother used to tell me that everything bad is good for something. It is of course a tragedy to see the numbers in Italy, but maybe it will help some people to realize the true values in life.
“For instance people who didn’t enjoy nature might appreciate it much more after this terrible situation is over. We also didn’t appreciate enough the work of our health workers, who are currently saving lives.
“So thanks to this situation, people who didn’t think about such issues might start to re-evaluate their lives.”