Thousands of Christians in Mexico and Brazil are attending clandestine masses in defiance of social distancing orders.
“The bells don’t ring, there are no calls to mass,” Antonio Hernández, who has seen churchgoers quietly enter services at the Mexican Sagrado Corazón de Jesús church, told The Guardian.
“You just see the people arrive a few minutes before 6:30pm, enter the temple through the back door and then after that you start to hear their prayers.”
More than 80 percent of Mexicans identify as Catholic, the publication reported, making Mexico the country with the world’s second-largest Catholic population, behind only Brazil. Latin America itself is home to more than 40 percent of the world’s Catholics.
Many of these Catholics have continued to go to mass despite social distancing orders.
Mexico’s federal government in March suspended all religious activities that involve crowds after the Mexican Episcopal Conference suspended masses following the first coronavirus outbreaks, The Guardian reported.
The secret church services are “invitation only,” Diego Martinez, whose mother attends the services, told the publication. “They call you and tell you the place and the date.”
Some churches, such as Nuestra Señora de Fátima in Zacatecas, allow attendance if the participants sit behind the camera while the mass is live-streamed on Facebook.
Vicente Martinez, a Catholic in the city of Gómez Palacios, says all churches have been closed in his area but that his congregation has secret activities every Thursday for about 30 to 40 people.
“They do a callout where they describe it as an exclusive and private mass with refreshments after,” Martinez told The Guardian.
Mexican authorities raided Nuestra Señora de la Luz in the middle of mass in late May, finding around 20 people — mostly elderly women — praying.
The authorities kicked the women out of the church and sealed the church’s back door, through which the women had entered.
“[But] they didn’t take any measures against the people inside — not even their temperature,” Martinez told The Guardian.
Evangelicals in Brazil have also been sneaking into church services, though the state governor of Rio banned religious gatherings in mid-March, according to the Guardian.
Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro has been calling for churches to reopen, the publication reported.
“I won’t accept having to cower in a cave, I won’t accept hiding in a hole because I have a calling from God,” Pastor Gilvrando Rodrigues said, according to The Guardian. “You could have stayed at home. But you needed to be here taking care of your salvation.”
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