CHALONS-EN-CHAMPAGNE, France (Reuters) - Roman Catholics in a town in eastern France were able to attend mass in their cars on Sunday, in the country’s first drive-in religious service since the start of a lockdown eight weeks ago aimed at halting the spread of the coronavirus.
The mass, held in the town of Chalons-en-Champagne, began with priests in white robes and wearing black face masks holding a procession through the parking lot, as a hymn was played and cars honked their horns.
The local bishop, Francois Touvet, stood on a podium in front of the cars as he led the service. Priests later gave out communion wafers to the faithful as they sat in their cars.
The virus outbreak and government restrictions on all public gatherings, intended to curb the spread of the virus, have forced many people in France and around the world to come up with innovative solutions to continue their activities.
France began cautiously to emerge from its lockdown on May 11, but indoor religious services remain banned until the end of the month as the government seeks to contain the risks of a second wave of infections.
“It (the lockdown) was really a deprivation for Catholics, as it was for other religions, not being able to gather in our places of worship... We very quickly came up with the idea of this formula of a drive-in mass,” Bishop Touvet said.
“People are in their cars, they come from the same apartment or the same house, they have alcohol gels and masks. The cars are one metre apart from each other, we give communion, and then we wash our hands,” Touvet added.
Worshippers are prohibited from leaving their vehicle, car-pooling is banned and a maximum number of four people from the same household are allowed per vehicle.
France has so far reported 142,291 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and 27,625 deaths, among the world’s highest fatality rates.
One worshipper, Michelle, was delighted to be able to attend mass again.
“There’s mass on television but it’s not the same as being with the community at a Sunday service,” she said.
Similar drive-in masses have taken place in other countries including Poland, where a priest has started taking confessions from the faithful in the parking lot of his church in Warsaw.
In Greece, by contrast, after the easing of a ban on public gatherings, thousands of people returned to church on Sunday after weeks of having to stay away.
Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, Gonzalo Fuentes and Pascal Rossignol; Editing by Gareth Jones