Kurl: Religious rituals suffer under COVID – but faith is still strong

Most pray more, not less, than before the start of the pandemic. But they lack the comfort and spiritual intimacy that comes from worshiping together.

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Spring is a special time for followers of Canada’s religious traditions. And for a second consecutive year, it is a period which bears the weight of isolation and observance by half measures. For many Jews, Passover meant the Seder dinner zoomed in. Catholics once again renounce the Stations of the Cross and the Paschal Mass in person. As Ramadan begins this month, Muslims will need to eat suhoor and iftar at home without visitors, rather than at their local mosque. And Hindus did not have the opportunity to gather, pray and play colors for Holi in March.

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What has 13 months of absence from their places of worship done to Canadians of faith? the Angus Reid Institute asked those who said they identified with a religion, and also who attended religious services at least once a month before the pandemic. Their responses are as varied as the spiritual paths they take.

On the one hand, isolation did not necessarily mean a loss of devotion. Most pray more, not less, than before the start of the pandemic. And 77% found a salvation by following online services. Of that group, most said it was a good alternative to in-person worship and wanted it to continue after the pandemic.

But that doesn’t mean they haven’t deeply felt the absence of the comfort and spiritual intimacy that comes from praying together. Those who most often attended in-person services before COVID-19 now miss this aspect of their metaphysical life the most. All Catholics, except a fraction, said that not being able to receive Holy Communion is felt keenly.

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Other aspects of community religious life have also suffered. For many congregations, volunteering and raising awareness are as much a part of the practice of faith as prayer. The reality of physical distancing means that most have stopped or reduced it altogether.

The effect on the spiritual health of religious Canadians varies depending on whether one is a half-full chalice or a half-empty chalice. Equal numbers say it has been positive and negative (about a fifth each) – while most say the impact on their spirituality has been “mixed”.

Indeed, if ever there was a time for even the most faithful to question the motive or even the very existence of God, the final year would be a strong candidate. And yet, we know from previous research that most canadians say their personal faith and religious belief is an important part of how they deal with the issues and challenges in their daily lives. And boy, we certainly had plenty of them.

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We can also analyze what a year of sustained personal spirituality but of crisis in the practice of public religion means for places of worship after the pandemic. Will the faithful return in person? On this front, there is room for comfort. All religious Canadians, except 15%, say they are eager to resume the in-person practice of their faith – some so much that they protest against the restrictions authorities have placed on their ability to practice themselves. bring together.

Their voices have been strong and passionate – but it’s important to note that they don’t represent the majority of regular devotees. People who have regularly prayed in person before March 2020 are in fact divided on this issue, with half saying the restrictions have been fair and balanced against the closures and restrictions placed on other public spaces (restaurants, retailers, etc.); slightly fewer (two out of five) stating that such checks were unfair; and others claiming that restrictions on public gatherings in places of worship have in fact been relaxed too much.

Those who are eager to seek the kinship and unity that flow from community prayer has no shortage of multi-faith scriptures that inspire them to stress the importance of something we all somewhat lack these days. I turn to the Bhagavad Gita for my reminder. In a time when the end of these strange and terrible times seems closer than ever, and yet so far away, patience is something that many of us can benefit from through prayer.

Shachi Kurl is chairman of the Angus Reid Institute, a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research foundation.

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