How religious communities are modifying traditions to prevent coronavirus spread

Updated 5:46 PM ET, Thu March 12, 2020

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(CNN)When Episcopal congregants receive Holy Communion this weekend, many of them may choose not to dip the consecrated bread into the single, shared chalice. Some Catholic churches simply won't be using the cup during communion. And when worshippers of both traditions exchange the sign of peace, they'll wave or bump elbows instead of the typical handshakes or hugs.

Those are just a handful of the precautions that the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago are each taking to help prevent the spread of coronavirus in their congregations. Both institutions have issued guidelines to clergy, priests and other congregation leaders as more cases of coronavirus are identified across their region.
And as coronavirus continues to spread around the world, religious leaders across several faith traditions are modifying practices and adjusting services. Churches are offering mass online and on TV. Synagogues may stream readings of the Scroll of Esther for Purim. Muslim pilgrimages of Umrah are temporarily suspended.
Here's a look at some of the ways that religions are adapting to the threat of coronavirus.

Christianity

In Bethlehem, doors are closed at the Church of the Nativity, considered the birthplace of Jesus. And across Manger Square, the Omar Ben Khatab mosque stands empty as well.
The Church of the Nativity, regarded as the birthplace of Jesus, is closed over fears of coronavirus.
Instead of giving his weekly Sunday greeting at the window in St. Peter's Square in Rome, Pope Francis delivered the Angelus prayer via video link.
    "We do this so that the close concentration of people won't spread the virus," the Pope said Sunday. He used his address to pray for those suffering from the outbreak and for those who are helping them.
    The Pope appeared briefly at the window to bless a small number of people gathered in St. Peter's Square.
    The Pope's weekly Wednesday audience will also be via video link, the Vatican said in a statement Saturday, and all public participation in his weekday private mass has been canceled through March 15.
    Vatican City reported its first coronavirus case on Friday, and the Vatican dispelled reports that Pope Francis had been tested for coronavirus, saying he only had a cold. Meanwhile, churches in many cities in the north of Italy -- including Bologna, Turin, and Venice -- suspended their Ash Wednesday services, with some offering masses online or on local television.
    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has closed several temples and limited or temporarily suspended gatherings in Hong Kong, Mongolia, South Korea, Japan and Seattle.
    The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s Office of Theology and Worship has assured worshippers that they can decide to limit church participation, or not, without fear of judgment. It also encouraged people who decide to stay home because they are sick to engage in other ways, including prayer circles, small groups and social media.
    "I think it's a way to stave off a sense of panic or too much alarm," Jeffrey Lee, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese in Chicago, told CNN. "Knowing that there are things we can do is powerful for people in church or out of church."

    Judaism

    Next week is Purim, one of the most festive and joyous holidays of the year, often ma