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Christians across traditions call for a Good Friday fast in response to pandemic

(RNS) — Christians across traditions have called for a Good Friday fast in response to the coronavirus pandemic that has caused mass shutdowns and continues to spread across the United States. 

Catholics normally fast on the last Friday before Easter. This year Presbyterians, Latter-day Saints, Jews and others are planning to join them.

Members of the Presbyterian Church of America, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Anglican Church in North America issued a statement that called for their faithful to set aside Good Friday "as a day of prayer and fasting."

This call, according to the statement, is "historic" because members of these churches "have united for the first time to pray for God's mercy and healing.

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"The goal is for all 550,000 members of these three churches to have the opportunity to participate," the statement reads. Other denominations were also invited. The notice included guides to prayer and fasting and a suggested prayer list.

The Most Rev. Foley Beach, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, said Good Friday is one of the two days of prayer and fasting that all Anglicans are "commended to observe."

This particular Good Friday, he said, "is an especially appropriate time for everyone in the Anglican Church in North America to join with our Presbyterian brothers and sisters in Christ in this historic call to prayer and fasting."

President Russell M. Nelson looks on during the morning session of a twice-annual conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Saturday, March 31, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

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The president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Russell M. Nelson, invited people of other faiths to fast and pray that the pandemic "may be controlled, caregivers protected, the economy strengthened, and life normalized."

This came after Nelson had first invited members and others to participate in a worldwide fast on March 29, for “physical and spiritual healing” in response to COVID-19. 

"As a physician and surgeon, I have great admiration for medical professionals, scientists and all who are working around the clock to curb the spread of COVID-19," Nelson said in a YouTube video posted on March 26.

Since then, a public Facebook group with more than 480,000 members has emerged to "spiritually uplift each other to prepare for the fast." The group is moderated by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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In that group, people who identify as Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, agnostic and atheist are sharing personal experiences that led them to commit to fasting.

One woman posted that while she was not part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she found the unity of fasting and prayer to be "lovely and beautiful."

"Don’t consider myself worthy to be a member of the church but I will be fasting as well, we all need to come together in these troubling times," another group member said.

Others from Arizona and California in the U.S. and from other countries like Guatemala and New Zealand said they're fasting.

Beliefnet, a lifestyle website about spirituality and wellness, also asked the public to join them in fasting and praying for worldwide relief focusing on coronavirus recovery.

"No matter where you are, or what your circumstances are, you have the power to pray and fast especially during this global pandemic," according to the site.