“We’ve experienced this before”, East European Catholics who suffered through communism have warned with regard to coronavirus lockdowns.

– Romania: “All that remains once more is prayer at home”

Romanian Catholic bishop Virgil Bercea told CNS April 11 that the restrictions in his country, where since March 24 citizens have been forbidden to leave their homes except to go to work or to buy food and medicines, reminded him of the time of dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu.

“The situation recalls the closure of churches for more than 40 years under communism, when we had no possibility to worship, still less celebrate Easter”, Bishop Bercea denounced.

He added that under Ceaușescu and his predecessor as Romanian head of state, Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, “our Church was forbidden and forced to live clandestinely… we had no priests and had to worship in our homes”.

“We’ve experienced this before, when having nothing was normal”, Bercea deplored.

“At that time, it was communism, and now it’s the coronavirus. The situation is different, but the realities are much the same.

“Everything is now closed again — churches, schools and universities — and all that remains once more is prayer at home.

“It’s a distressing and difficult situation, with many saying the situation under communism has returned.

But Bercea said the Church and the faithful did understand the sufferings of the now more than 8,000 sick and 400 dead with COVID-19 in the country, along with the pain of their families and loved ones.

He added that critics of the coronavirus restrictions would “react differently” if they were the ones affected.

“We… hope it finish[es] soon this time”, the bishop affirmed, with regards to Romania’s virus restrictions.

– Poland: “We’ve never been barred from churches before”

In Poland, meanwhile, radio presenter Malgorzata Glabisz-Pniewska told CNS that “the terrifying vision of empty churches shows how it might have been if past anti-Catholic hostilities had prevailed”.

Although Glabisz-Pniewska said that many Catholics in Poland had been “surprised and shocked” by the restrictions – which like in Romania include bans on all non-essential travel – “there hasn’t been any great resistance” to confinement among believers, “since these measures have been ordered by a government seen as sympathetic to the faith, with acceptance by church leaders”.

“But we’ve never been barred from churches before, even in periods of persecution, and it’s doubtful the curbs would have been accepted so easily if a more anti-clerical government had been in power”, the Polish radio presenter reflected.

– Russia: calm, but “much sadness”

In the meantime, from Russia, the secretary-general of that country’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Monsignor Igor Kovalevsky, said the measures authorities are taking there to limit the pandemic have aroused “fears and negative associations” among the faithful.

That’s even though, he added, citizens are aware similar policies are in place in other countries around the world.

“There’s still no standardised federal regulation on quarantining in Russia”, Kovalevsky denounced, lamenting too that Easter services had to proceed without the physical presence of Catholics in churches.

“The faithful have generally taken this calmly, although with much sadness”, the Russian Catholic Bishops’ secretary reported.

“But some people, here and in other post-communist countries, are dissatisfied and have disputed whether churches should be closed”.

Stay up to date on Novena on the latest on the Church and the coronavirus:

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.