Pandemic tempers patron saint festival in Romania

Pandemic tempers patron saint festival in Romania

A woman, wearing a mask for protection against the COVID-19 infection, is reflected in a tinted chapel window, along with a metal casing said to contain the remains of St. Dimitrie of Basarabov, the patron saint of the Romanian capital, in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. The feast of St. Dimitrie of Basarabov, the patron saint of the Romanian capital, which usually lasted for a week and was attended by up to 100 thousand people from all over the country, was reduced in 2020 to three days due to pandemic control restrictions, which included limiting access to the celebrations to inhabitants of Bucharest, and less than a third of the usual number of worshipers attended. (Credit: Andreea Alexandru/AP.)

The feast of St. Dimitrie of Basarabov, the patron saint of Bucharest, is a show of Orthodox Christianity's strength in Romania, where a weeklong festival devoted to the former hermit typically draws up to 100,000 people from all over the country to the capital every October.

BUCHAREST, Romania — The feast of St. Dimitrie of Basarabov, the patron saint of Bucharest, is a show of Orthodox Christianity’s strength in Romania, where a weeklong festival devoted to the former hermit typically draws up to 100,000 people from all over the country to the capital every October.

This year, the coronavirus halted the national pilgrimage. The celebration honoring Dimitrie started at the end of a week when Romania’s daily tally of coronavirus infections rose above 5,000 for the first time since the start of the pandemic. The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care also reached a new high.

A priest, wearing a mask for protection against the COVID-19 infection, opens a gate at the Patriarchal Cathedral at the beginning of the Saint Dimitrie Basarabov, pilgrimage in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (Credit: Andreea Alexandru/AP.)

Orthodox priests, wearing masks for protection against the COVID-19 infection, walk holding metal casings said to contain holy remains, including those of Saint Dimitrie Basarabov, at the start of a pilgrimage in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (Credit: Vadim Ghirda/AP.)

Orthodox priests, wearing masks for protection against the COVID-19 infection, walk holding metal casings said to contain holy remains, including those of Saint Dimitrie Basarabov, at the start of a pilgrimage in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (Credit: Vadim Ghirda/AP.)

Infection-control measures limited access to the festival to Bucharest residents. The feast was shortened to three days and drew less than a third of the usual number of worshipers.

As per tradition, remains that are said to be of three saints, including St. Dimitrie, were taken out of the Patriarchal Cathedral and placed in a nearby chapel. People wearing masks for protection against the virus filed past the boxes said to contain the holy remains with miraculous healing powers, kissing and wiping personal belongings on the shiny metal cases.

A church volunteer, wearing a mask for protection against the COVID-19 infection, holds a container of disinfectant while waiting for worshipers to start walking by the metal casings said to contain holy remains, some of Saint Dimitrie Basarabov, on the first day of a pilgrimage in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (Credit: Vadim Ghirda/AP.)

A woman crosses herself while a church volunteer, wearing a mask for protection against the COVID-19 infection, sprays disinfectant and wipes the plastic cover of the casings said to contain holy remains, some of Saint Dimitrie Basarabov, on the first day of a pilgrimage in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (Credit: Vadim Ghirda/AP.)

A woman wearing a masks for protection against the COVID-19 infection, kisses a decorated metal casing said to contain holy remains, including those of Saint Dimitrie Basarabov, at the start of a pilgrimage in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (Credit: Vadim Ghirda/AP.)

Volunteers regularly sprayed disinfectant on the plastic covers on the three cases and wiped them down.

The pandemic restrictions drew criticism from members of the Orthodox clergy. About 85% of Romania’s more than 19 million people identify as Orthodox Christians, and the government measures dramatically altered religious celebrations in 2020,

Patriarch Daniel, the head of the Romanian Orthodox Church, reminded worshippers that communism fell in Romania in December 1989, two months after government officials had banned that year’s St. Dimitrie festival because a Communist Party meeting was taking place in a building near the Patriarchal Cathedral.

People, some wearing masks against the COVID-19 infection, file past decorated metal casings said to contain holy remains, including those of Saint Dimitrie Basarabov, during a pilgrimage in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (Credit: Vadim Ghirda/AP.)

Orthodox priests, wearing masks for protection against the COVID-19 infection, walk holding metal casings said to contain holy remains, some of Saint Dimitrie Basarabov, at the start of a pilgrimage in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (Credit: Vadim Ghirda/AP.)

A woman wearing a mask for protection against the COVID-19 infection, kisses a decorated metal casing said to contain holy remains, including those of Saint Dimitrie Basarabov, at the start of a pilgrimage in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. ((Credit: Vadim Ghirda/AP.)

A woman wearing a masks for protection against the COVID-19 infection, kisses a decorated metal casing said to contain holy remains, including those of Saint Dimitrie Basarabov, at the start of a pilgrimage in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (Credit: Vadim Ghirda/AP.)

Orthodox priests, wearing masks for protection against the COVID-19 infection, walk holding metal casings said to contain holy remains, including those of Saint Dimitrie Basarabov, at the start of a pilgrimage in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (Credit: Vadim Ghirda/AP.)

A fast-moving revolution resulted in the execution of President Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania’s last communist leader, and his wife, Elena, on Christmas Day. To Patriarch Daniel, the connection to failing to honor a patron saint is clear.

“This humiliation of St Dimitrie was ‘rewarded,’, as in a few months the communist regime fell,” he said this week. “God does not allow being mocked”

An Orthodox worshiper, wearing a mask for protection against the COVID-19 infection, prays during a religious service, on the first day of the Saint Dimitrie Basarabov pilgrimage in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (Credit: Vadim Ghirda/AP.)

Orthodox Bishop Timotei Prahoveanul wears a mask against the COVID-19 infection, while attending the Saint Dimitrie Basarabov pilgrimage in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (Credit: Vadim Ghirda/AP.)

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