Locked-down French Catholics mark holy mass via YouTube

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Carquefou, France (Reuters) – Coronavirus restrictions meant Catholic priest Guillaume Le Floc’h officiated at Wednesday evening’s mass in front of empty pews, so to make sure his flock could celebrate the holy feast of Annunciation, he had the service livestreamed on YouTube.

The virus outbreak and government restrictions on all gatherings, intended to curb the spread of the virus, have forced many people in France and around the world to innovate, including the Catholic church in Carquefou, in northwest France.

For Wednesday’s mass, the only people taking part in the service in person were Le Floc’h, an IT support person whose job was to make sure the live feed did not go down, and three Catholic nuns from a nearby religious community.

“They appreciate being able to connect with their priest and their usual church,” the 43-year-old priest said of his parishioners viewing online, speaking to Reuters before the mass.

The Annunciation, one of the holiest dates in the Catholic calendar, marks the moment that, according to Catholic tradition, the Angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary she was expecting a child.

Le Floc’h, in a prayer at the start of Wednesday’s mass, made reference to the coronavirus outbreak that has killed some 1,100 people in France to date, with 22,300 people infected.

“We think of all the sick, the carers, and the people who are in isolation,” said the priest. “Amen.”

The livestream of the service featured a fixed shot of the church altar, with its 15th century Notre Dame de la Blanche, a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary. The livestream peaked at 175 views, according to YouTube data.

The live feed was advertised in advance on the parish’s Facebook page. Parishioners were given the option of downloading the order of service and the hymn sheet for the mass.

Believers across France, now 9 days into a nationwide lockdown, marked the Annunciation in unfamiliar ways this year.

The Catholic church hierarchy encouraged believers to place candles in their windows at 19:30 (1830 GMT), the same time church bells rang to mark the holy day.

“This common gesture will mark our coming together in thought and prayer for those who have died, for those who are sick and the people close to them, for the carers and all those who make life in our country possible,” the church said in a statement.