Religious holidays coincide as B.C. faithful freely celebrate in-person after end of pandemic restrictions

Followers of several faiths are marking holidays this long weekend and the return to full, in-person services after more than two years of pandemic restrictions has worshipers giving extra thanks.

Rose Pillay has marked Easter at St. Mary’s Parish in East Vancouver for over 40 years. Pillay says she felt like a part of her de ella was missing when in-person gatherings were restricted during the pandemic.

“It’s like the borders were closed to us. Our spiritual borders to our family,” she said. “What I missed the most, and as crazy as it may sound, is the busyness of this parish.”

Father Guy Rivard of St. Mary’s Parish says Pillay is not the only one feeling that way. He says other parishioners have told him not being able to gather for religious celebrations for the last two years has been hard.

Worshipers gather at St. Mary’s Parish in East Vancouver to mark Good Friday. Father Father Guy Rivard says he expects the pews to be packed with people on Easter Sunday. (Janella Hamilton/CBC News)

He says although some aspects of the church services over the weekend will be adapted, such as not allowing worshipers to touch the holy cross but bow to it instead, the church expected full pews on Easter Sunday.

“Our people are all very, very, happy that they can at least come to church,” Rivard said.

The Jewish community also marked the beginning of Passover this long weekend.

Ezra Shanken, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, says coming together as a community is a big part of how Jewish people connect spiritually. He says there are some prayers that require a certain number of people to be in the room.

An example of a Seder plate with symbolic ingredients that are part of the traditional Jewish Passover meal. (Submitted by David Robins)

“Over the pandemic we were able to do that, and continue to do that by Zoom when we need to,” Shanken said. “But it’s not the same.”

He calls this weekend a “collision of spirituality” as many people of other faiths are also celebrating their own holidays.

Holidays overlap

Easter, Ramadan, Vaisakhi and Passover religious celebrations are overlapping for the first time in more than 30 years this weekend.

BC Premier John Horgan marked each holiday with a statement, sending well wishes to the faith communities as people are allowed to gather once again.

To mark the special occasion, Islamic Relief Canada said in a statement its annual cross-country Grand Iftars are returning and will be coming to Surrey’s Riverside Signature Banquet Hall on Sunday.

Iftar is the meal following a fast, either during Ramadan or at other times throughout the year.

A man waits for afternoon prayers to start during Ramadan outside the Al Masjid Al Jamia mosque in Vancouver. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

“It is such a relief that we get to experience Ramadan as a community once again,” said Reyhana Patel, director of communications and government relations at Islamic Relief Canada in the release.

Vaisakhi parade returns to Kamloops

While Vaisakhi parades in Vancouver and Surrey were canceled for the third year in a row, a large gathering went ahead in Kamloops, BC, on Saturday morning.

The Sikh Cultural Society hosted Vaisakhi Nagar Kirtan celebrations, including a parade, as COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted. The holiday marks the spring harvest festival and new year for people of the Sikh faith.

Hundreds of people could be seen walking around and enjoying food in videos posted to the Sikh Cultural Society’s Facebook page.

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