A number of secret church gatherings have been taking place across Mexico and Brazil despite Covid-19 restrictions which expressly prohibit services from being held.
Catholic masses are being hosted in various church buildings across Mexico with participants only being admitted if they can recall secret passwords. “It’s invitation-only,” said one man, Diego Martinez, whose mother has attended one of the events. “They call you and tell you the place and the date.”
Another man, who has witnessed worshippers slip into secret worship sessions at the Sagrado Corazón de Jesús church in the town of Ixtapa, told the Guardian:
“The bells don’t ring, there are no calls to mass. 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."
Shortly after the first confirmed coronavirus cases were reported back in March, the Mexican Episcopal Conference suspended mass indefinitely. Days later, the Mexican government suspended all religious activities involving crowds. Despite these strict orders, worshippers have continued to gather at church, with some recalling being allowed to attend masses only if they remain seated behind the camera which live-streams the liturgy to Facebook.
“Only people close to the church go,” said Vicente Martínez, a member of the Catholic community in the city of Gómez Palacios. "They have hidden activities for 30 or 40 people each Thursday. They do a callout where they describe it as an exclusive and private mass with refreshments after.”
In Brazil, evangelicals continue to engage in clandestine worship meetings, flouting lockdown rules; and they have tacit support from high ranking government officials, too.
Marcelo Crivella, the evangelical bishop and mayor of Rio de Janeiro, has been campaigning for churches to be reopened immediately despite a spike in death rates.
His calls to reinstate church gatherings have been echoed by Brazil's outspoken president, Jair Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro has come under fire for previously shrugging off coronavirus as a "little flu." When confronted with his country's rapidly rising death toll back in April, he simply replied, "So what?" prompting outrage from his political opponents. "My name’s Messiah,” Bolsonaro added, in reference to his second name Messias, “but I can’t work miracles.”
Rio pastor Gilvrando Rodrigues said that there has been confusion over official policy since a judge ruled that services could resume in the city last week, contradicting the state governor's orders. Despite catching the virus himself and experiencing the severity of the disease first-hand, the pastor said that he was not prepared to "stop proclaiming the word of Christ."
In a recent service, he declared: "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."
Brazil now has the second-highest Covid-19 death toll in the world, totalling over 46,000.