Religious groups prepare for COVID-safe gatherings during spring holidays

Payton Reeves

Religious groups and places of worship near campus are feeling optimistic about annual holy celebrations as pandemic restrictions loosen, but are still taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  

Easter, Passover, Holi and Ramadan are all holy holidays occurring between March and May, but most religious groups were unable to observe these celebrations in person last year due to COVID-19 restrictions. Although the way people celebrate the holy days has changed amid the pandemic, religious leaders and community members are more hopeful for events this year.  

“The energy is strong, it’s good, it’s solid,” said Holly Hunt, administrative assistant for the University Catholic Center. “People are excited to worship.” 

Emma Stein, a government and international relations and global studies sophomore, said because she is vaccinated, she was able to eat Seder dinner — a meal that helps commemorate the start of Passover — and observe Passover traditions with a friend’s family in Austin. 

Stein said she is hosting her own COVID-safe Passover events through Texas Hillel. 

“This upcoming Friday I’m going to be hosting … a paddleboard Passover,” Stein said. “We’re going to go out on Lady Bird Lake in socially distant groups, and then afterward we’re getting kosher for Passover meals that we can eat.”

Hunt said the University Catholic Center is maintaining its current COVID-19 protocol for Easter celebrations, but expects to host larger crowds than they’ve seen so far throughout the pandemic.

“Our sound system will play what’s going on in the Holy Spirit chapel — where mass is being held — out into the atrium,” Hunt said. “What we’re able to do if we reach our capacity in our chapel is set up some chairs in the atrium and allow people to listen from there.”

UT’s Hindu Students Association will be hosting a virtual Holi celebration on Friday in place of their usual celebration of throwing colored powder on the LBJ Library’s lawn. 

The theme for their Holi celebration is “Pyaar Is Power” and focuses on raising awareness for LGBTQ+ initiatives, said Neha Irrinki and Sanja Bhatia, co-chairs of the Holi celebration for the association, in an email. The online event will include keynote speaker D’Lo, a South Asian comedian and performer, and an educational presentation.

Nueces Mosque president Niha Sheikh said the community aspect of Ramadan was lost last year. Although the mosque’s COVID-19 protocol creates limitations, Sheikh said many mosque members are looking forward to revitalizing the collective part of the holiday.

“We really do try to hope and kind of revive that community feeling and (are) trying to let the community still come to the mosque, even if it’s in a limited capacity,” said Sheikh, a psychology and youth and community studies senior. 

Kalyann Palacios, an anthropology and government junior, said she is looking forward to celebrating Easter with her recently vaccinated grandmother.

“I’ve gotten a lot of my faith and my excitement in general for practicing from her,” Palacios said. “She’s definitely a very big inspiration, and I would love to celebrate the holiday with her.”