Maputo — Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, is a key moment in the Christian liturgy, celebrating the date when, according to the New Testament, the religion's founder, Jesus Christ, entered Jerusalem on a donkey, with a crowd paving his route with palm rushes.
But this year, for the first time ever, Mozambique's Christian churches were virtually deserted on Palm Sunday, and no processions were held. The social distancing measures in force to stop the spread of the coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease Covid-19, obliged churches to reduce the believers physically present at Palm Sunday services to a bare minimum.
In Maputo's Roman Catholic cathedral, the Archbishop of Maputo, Francisco Chimoio, urged all Christians to reflect on the passion of Christ, and to deepen their faith, hope and charity, particularly in the difficult moments of the coronavirus pandemic.
A short distance away, the Anglican bishop of the Libombos diocese, Carlos Matsinhe, urged Mozambicans to make Holy Week, the week prior to Easter, a moment to seek salvation from God.
But they were both speaking to near-empty churches. Television crews filmed the bishops speaking to a handful of believers well spaced out, in line with the instruction that there must be no crowds, and there should be a distance of at least 1.5 metres between those attending.
The great majority of Catholics and Anglicans were told to follow the church services over radio or television. The independent television station, STV, is broadcasting both Catholic and Anglican services throughout Holy Week.
Even the Pentecostal churches, imported from Brazil, such as the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD), have come into line, cancelling their services in obedience to Mozambique's State of Emergency (unlike their reckless behaviour in Latin America).
A forlorn note appeared on IURD premises in Maputo announcing that even the fraudulent miracles that this church boasts of will not take place this week. The note reads: "Statement on Coronavirus: We inform you that the meetings to cure diseases have been cancelled because of this disease".