Pastor said church would remain open as Bolsonaro dismissed virus as media ‘fantasy’, while Brazil has 654 confirmed cases
A major evangelical church in Brazil has won a court battle to remain open despite warnings that large gatherings will help spread the coronavirus.
The ruling came days after a prominent bishop from another evangelical church told followers not to worry about the pandemic because the devil was trying to create fear.
Religious leaders around the world have closed places of worship to help slow the spread of the virus, but many evangelical and Catholic churches remain open in Brazil, where seven people have died from Covid-19 and there are 654 confirmed cases.
Even before Friday’s court ruling, Pastor Silas Malafia, head of the Assembly of God Victoria in Christ church – and a vociferous ally of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro – said his church would stay open.
“If everything closes, there will be a little door open in my church and I will be there,” Malafia said in a video on Thursday.
Bolsonaro, who recently dismissed coronavirus as a media “fantasy”, has provoked widespread condemnation by defying medical advice and making public appearances with crowds of supporters.
“We have to to reduce the circulation of people – and even more so in closed environments – to reduce the spread of the virus,” said Ralycon Teixeira, an infectious diseases specialist at São Paulo’s Emílio Ribas hospital.
In an Instagram video, gospel singer Ana Paula Valadão attacked churches for staying open and suggested they wanted to keep receiving donations from the faithful. Malafia responded by saying his church took donations online.
More than 1,500 people attended a service at Malafia’s huge church in Rio de Janeiro, on Thursday said Alexandre Camargo, a pastor at the church. “It is a spiritual hospital for us,” he said. The church is not filled to capacity, hand santizer is provided and worshippers stay more than one metre apart, he said.
The Archbishop of São Paulo has taken a similar stance but masses there have been reduced. With public worship banned in Italy, Pope Francis has been broadcasting mass online.
Brazil’s biggest evangelical church, the Universal Church of The Kingdom of God, is also still holding services, (and providing soap and water and hand sanitizer, telling people to keep their distance and avoiding prayers involving physical contact).
Its leader, bishop Edir Macedo, told followers not to worry about coronavirus in a Whatsapp video. “There is an economic interest behind this whole coronavirus campaign,” he said, claiming a campaign of fear had been created by the devil.
“Satan works with fear,” Macedo said.