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AP PHOTOS: Pandemic tempers patron saint festival in 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.

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.

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. 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. (AP PhotoAndreea Alexandru)

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.

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,

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. 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. (AP PhotoVadim Ghirda)

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.

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”

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. (AP PhotoVadim Ghirda)

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. (AP PhotoAndreea Alexandru)

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. (AP PhotoAndreea Alexandru)

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. (AP PhotoVadim Ghirda)

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. 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. (AP PhotoAndreea Alexandru)

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. 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.(AP PhotoAndreea Alexandru)

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. (AP PhotoAndreea Alexandru)

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. (AP PhotoVadim Ghirda)

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. (AP PhotoVadim Ghirda)

A man, wearing a mask against the COVID-19 infection, walks holding a little girl by metal casings said to contain holy remains, including of Saint Dimitrie Basarabov, the patron saint of the Romanian capital, on the first of three days of pilgrimage in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, (AP PhotoVadim Ghirda)

A man who lowered his 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. (AP PhotoAndreea Alexandru)

Orthodox worshipers, wearing masks for protection against the COVID-19 infection, attend a religious service, on the first day of the Saint Dimitrie Basarabov pilgrimage in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. 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. (AP PhotoVadim Ghirda)

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. (AP PhotoAndreea Alexandru)

Orthodox worshipers, wearing masks for protection against the COVID-19 infection, attend a religious service, on the first day of the Saint Dimitrie Basarabov pilgrimage in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (AP PhotoVadim Ghirda)

Orthodox worshipers, wearing masks for protection against the COVID-19 infection, attend a religious service, on the first day of the Saint Dimitrie Basarabov pilgrimage in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (AP PhotoVadim Ghirda)