God has now started working from home

Updated: Apr 05, 2020, 07:46 IST | Gaurav Sarkar, Jane Borges | Mumbai

Since the national lockdown, the faithful across communities have been attending mass, and listening to audio prayers on the net

Fr Joshan Rodrigues, assistant parish priest of St Francis Xavier Church in Thakurdwar, recording a Bible reading and reflection, which he shares daily
Fr Joshan Rodrigues, assistant parish priest of St Francis Xavier Church in Thakurdwar, recording a Bible reading and reflection, which he shares daily

For Catholics, the upcoming week is one of the most holy in their religious calendar. Starting with Palm Sunday, when palm branches are distributed in the church, the week leads up to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and finally, Easter. It's the time, when attending mass becomes the most important part of their routine. Yet, this year, Catholic devotees have found themselves in a difficult situation. For a better part of the Lent season, the period of 40-day abstinence that began on February 26, they've been at home. And the Holy Week is not going to be any different. Yet, prayers, as they say, need to continue.

Earlier this week, the Archdiocese of Bombay, announced the live streaming of Holy week services at the Cathedral of Holy Name, Colaba. Archbishop of Bombay Cardinal Oswald Gracias has, in fact, been celebrating mass daily since the lockdown, and it is being live streamed for devotees, many of whom feel the need to turn to religion, since the Coronavirus outbreak.

With religious congregations and gatherings having been put on hold at least until the lockdown ends, priests and spiritual heads across different religious groups and communities, have devised tech-savvy ways, to help devotees connect with God.

A faithful attends an online mass celebrated by Archbishop of Bombay Cardinal Oswald Gracias
A faithful attends an online mass celebrated by Archbishop of Bombay Cardinal Oswald Gracias

Logging in to pray
Hatim Dohadwala, a Mazagaon-based electronic engineer, belongs to the Bohra community and lives with his wife and two daughters. He says a list of prayers were sent out by the religious heads via email on the very first day of the lockdown. "The mail also stated that we must follow the guidelines and maintain social distancing," he said. "For the last five days, a live majlis [congregation] has been conducted over the Internet at 9.45 pm for 30 minutes. We have been listening in and praying."

Apart from the Archbishop of Bombay, priests from churches across, have been reaching out to their parishioners via WhatsApp or Facebook.

Fr Joshan Rodrigues, assistant parish priest of St Francis Xavier Church in Thakurdwar, has been sharing readings and reflections from the Bible, daily at 11 am. He works with a humble set-up in his office, where he places his phone on a pile of books, before recording the video. This is in keeping with the Cardinal's guidelines that not more than four people be present, while recording of a mass or prayer session, as it's in direct violation of Section 144. Fr Rodrigues has also got young members of the parish to pray the rosary every day on WhatsApp, where each one shares an audio of the same Hail Mary prayer on the group. "The idea is to keep the parish community bonded during this time, even if they can't physically be together to pray. It also helps them stay connected with the priest from their parish, especially for those, who are accustomed to attending mass every day. It's why I do a video clip."

Hatim Dohadwala tunes into the live majlis with his family at home
Hatim Dohadwala tunes into the live majlis with his family at home

The response, he says, has been overwhelming. Members of his parish, which comprises over a thousand family members, have been listening in. "I've been getting good feedback, and if I don't send it on any given day, they personally message me, asking if I could share it," the priest says.

Michele D'Costa, a parishioner of Our Lady of Health in Cavel, says there have been occasions when she has heard three masses either on YouTube or Facebook, in one day. "I wouldn't call myself deeply religious, but the last few weeks have made me more spiritual and reflective. I usually listen to the mass quietly in a room, and because, there are no distractions, I am more attentive to every word. The experience has been enriching."

The Parsis too, have been listening to prayers uploaded on the Internet by the priests. On the auspicious occasion of Behram Roj Ava Mahino on April 2, since Parsis could not visit the Iranshah in Udwadia or any other fire temple in Mumbai, Vada Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor, high priest of Iranshah Atash Behram in Udvada, performed a prayer at 9.30 am and uploaded the audio clip on the Internet.

Mumbai city's Baha'i chapter secretary Nargis Gaur said that they had been offering prayers virtually through video calling. "We believe that an individual can connect with God through sincere prayer and meditation—irrelevant of the place of worship," said Gaur.

Community calling
Abdulqadir Tamim, 42, director of the Education Department at the Dawat-e-Hadiyah, says that apart from praying "dua" from their homes daily, members of the Bohra community have been taking up online self-improvement and skill learning classes. "The Syedna has always counselled us to be proactive with our time," he says. "We reached out to a few companies that provide online self-development and time management courses and asked them to provide us with those for free. Community members have been asked to register on our website, after which, they can avail the courses free. It offers them a sense of achievement. When they step out after the lockdown, they will be improved versions of their selves."

Ervad Kaizad Karkaria, head priest at the Rustom Faramna Agiary in Dadar, says that Parsis living in various baugs and colonies have also been coming to their respective balconies at 6 pm every day and are performing a "humbandagi." "It lasts for 10 minutes, during which we pray five Yatha Ahu Vairyo and three Ashem Vohu," he says, adding that doing this has become important at a time when people are disconnected from the world.

Although the fire temples had been shut to the general public, priests have to constantly be present, since they have to tend to the fire and ensure that the eternal flame never goes out. Karkaria says, "Those of us who live close to the agiary are on double duty since the priests who live a long way off can't come. The holy fire has to be kept burning 24 hours since it's the eternal flame that Parsis worship."

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