For Pope Francis at the Vatican, and for Christians worldwide from churches large and small, this will be an Easter like none other: The joyous message of Christ's resurrection will be delivered to empty pews. Pope Francis, the first pontiff from Latin America, will be celebrating Mass for Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Easter in a near-empty St. Peter's Basilica, instead of in the huge square outside filled with Catholic faithful. In the pope's native Argentina, the archbishopric of La Plata encouraged the faithful to use any type of plant at home for a "virtual" blessing that will be livestreamed during Palm Sunday services this weekend. The pandemic has prompted cancellation of a renowned annual tradition of sawdust and handmade flower carpets coating the streets of Antigua, a colonial Guatemalan city, during its Holy Week procession. At Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kansas, family ministries director Heather Jackson is organizing an Easter egg hunt that embraces social distancing. If not for the virus, 32-year-old Chris Burton — a writer, teacher and devout Baptist in Brooklyn, New York — would be planning a trip to Maryland for Easter dinner with his family. In Brazil, the world's biggest Catholic country, Rio de Janeiro's huge Christ the Redeemer statue has been closed indefinitely. Large Holy Week gatherings are banned in several states after a federal court overruled a decree by President Jair Bolsonaro exempting religious services from quarantine measures. At St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Brunswick, Ohio, Father Bob Stec also is organizing a pre-Easter initiative, arranging for each of the parish's 5,500 families to get a friendly call from another member. Associated Press writers Sonia Perez in Guatemala City; Debora Rey in Buenos Aires; Eva Vergara in Santiago, Chile; Diane Jeantet in Rio de Janeiro; Gonzalo Solano in Quito, Ecuador and Jorge Rueda in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed.
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