New York: Christians celebrated Easter Sunday isolated in their homes by the coronavirus while pastors preached the faith’s joyous news of Christ’s resurrection to empty pews. St Peter’s Square was barricaded to keep out crowds, while one Florida church drew a large turnout for a drive-in service in a parking lot.

The strangeness of this Easter was evident at the Vatican St Peter’s Square, where tens of thousands would normally gather to hear Pope Francis, was empty. Francis celebrated Easter Mass inside the largely vacant basilica, calling for global solidarity to confront the “epochal challenge” of the pandemic and urging political leaders to give hope and opportunity to people who’ve lost jobs.

Worldwide, families, who normally would attend church in their Easter best and later enjoy festive group meals, stayed home. Police checkpoints in Europe and outside closed churches elsewhere left the faithful watching services online or on TV.

Some US pastors went ahead with in-person services despite state or local bans on large gatherings.

At the Happy Gospel Church in Bradenton, Florida, about 100 cars carrying 250 people gathered in the parking lot to hear Pastor Bill Bailey’s Easter sermon. Some sat in lawn chairs or on tailgates, but families stayed at least 6 feet apart; those in their cars occasionally honked to convey agreement with Bailey’s remarks.

Also read: Pope to livestream Easter mass to locked down world

In Louisiana, a pastor, who is facing misdemeanor charges for holding services despite a ban on gatherings, said people from every state and all but one continent attended his Easter service Sunday morning.

President Donald Trump had said he planned to watch an online service led by the Rev Robert Jeffress of the Southern Baptist megachurch First Baptist Dallas, although the White House wouldn’t confirm whether he did. The pastor, a staunch ally of the President, mentioned Trump in his remarks.

In their own Easter message, Trump and his wife, Melania, paid tribute to the medical professionals, first responders and other essential workers striving to combat the pandemic.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson was released from the hospital after a week of treatment for COVID-19, paid an emotional tribute to the country’s National Health Service, saying its doctors and nurses had saved his life “no question.” He especially thanked two nurses who stood by his bedside for 48 hours “when things could have gone either way.”

With agency inputs