VICTORIA -- With churches and synagogues closed and services cancelled because of the novel coronavirus, religious leaders across Vancouver Island have found new ways to connect with people.

April is an important month in many religious calendars. For Christians, the celebration of Easter is a time for people to gather and share their faith. For people of the Jewish faith, Passover is the festival of freedom from slavery. For many religions now is time to come together as a community, but the need for physical distancing because of COVID-19 has prevented traditional gatherings.

“It may be 2,000 years that we have no Easter celebrations of the mass,” said Our Lady of the Rosary pastor Father Dean Henderson. “I’ve got people that are really grieving as I am grieving the loss of our celebrations in a communal fashion.”

To help keep people connected to their faith over Easter, Henderson sends out a memo by email to his parishioners. In it, he offers parishioners encouragement and inspiration in faith and helps to maintain their faith even though they are unable to gather.

“We need to practice the love of God, the love of neighbour and the love of self regardless,” said Henderson. “We need to find spiritual community over the Easter celebrations.”

For one mother, who attends with her two children, having the doors to the church open allows her to pause for reflection during an unprecedented time in her faith. It also helps to remain hopeful this Easter season.

“I think our Easter will be more quiet, but spiritually may be even better,” said Our Lady of the Rosary parishioner Mariola O’Brien. “We are focusing on the essentials, right? And we are more grateful for what we have.”

For people of the Congregation Emanu-el on Blanshard Street in Victoria, celebrations of Passover started on Wednesday. The synagogue has moved all events and services, including the traditional Pesach market, online during the pandemic.

Victoria’s Christ Church Cathedral and the Saint Andrew’s Cathedral also have an online presence for those unable to attend church because of the pandemic.

Christ Church is offering the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia’s “Worship Without Walls,” which is a series of video recordings of daily prayers. Meanwhile, Saint Andrew’s is live-streaming daily mass with Catholic Bishop Gary Gordon to people safely in their homes.

“In spite of the absence of our proximity together for the celebration of Easter, Christ the living Lord is not absent,” said Henderson. “God so loved the world, even one on lockdown from a pandemic virus. We need to find the community in that over the Easter celebrations.”

Information on how you can celebrate the Easter season or Passover can be found on the websites for the cathedrals and the synagogue.