Communal church life is an integral part of family life for George and Randa Sabat and their four children, but with a strictly enforced lockdown on the city and the two neighboring towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, the family has been looking inward for spiritual support and a strengthening of their faith.

“Even though we already have a good relationship with the church, during this difficult time our connection has become even better,” George Sabat told Catholic News Service in a phone interview from his home, where he is under lockdown because of COVID-19. “We see more what God wants from us. We have not only been spiritually nourished by this time spent together as a family, but also we are socially nourished.”

George Sabat said between work and outside activities, including at St. Catherine Church in Bethlehem, he and his wife normally have little time to spend with their four sons, who range in age from 21 to 11. Now, he said, they have been given the opportunity to slow down and not only strengthen their relations with their children, but to be together as a couple.

The initial seven cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Bethlehem were linked to a group of Greek pilgrims who stayed at a hotel in Beit Jala. On March 6, the Palestinian Authority declared a state of emergency in a bid to contain the coronavirus, barring all foreign visitors into the Bethlehem governate and imposing a total lockdown of the area for a closure scheduled to extend at least 30 days. It also ordered all schools, universities, mosques and churches in the West Bank closed. People may leave their homes only for essential necessities such as food or medicine.

As Holy Week approaches, enveloped with uncertainty, every day the Sabats watch a film about the life of a saint to discuss how their lives can be an influence on their own lives, especially at this time.

“Watching these films together is a good teaching example for our children. They see that their parents take the lives of the saints seriously, and we can each learn something from them,” said George Sabat.

Local church leaders have turned to social media and the internet to connect with their parishes and livestream prayers and processions.

“Even if the situation will continue like this we believe we can receive the grace of this feast (Easter) by spiritually internalizing this,” said George Sabat.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, has urged faithful to pray at home, read the Bible, and continue to fast, “asking God for mercy and forgiveness.”

Father Rami Asakrieh of St. Catherine Parish said prayer is continuing at the church, with daily Mass and processions at the church, which is adjacent to the Church of the Nativity.

The first Station of the Cross was prayed ecumenically with a live online presentation, including music from the Melkite Catholic Church in Beit Sahour, he said. The second station was prayed at St. Catherine’s.

Father Asakrieh said he has remained in contact with his parishioners through phone calls and social media messages.

—Judith Sudilovsky

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