With banners reading "Let us Pray" and "We Want Mass," Catholic protesters held scattered demonstrations around France on Sunday to demand that authorities relax virus lockdown measures to allow religious services. In the western city of Nantes, hundreds gathered in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary, some kneeling on the rain-soaked pavement. Similar gatherings were held or planned in the eastern city of Strasbourg, Bordeaux in the southwest, and outside the Saint-Louis Cathedral in Versailles, the AP reports. Catholics sang hymns and protested for hours Friday at the landmark Saint-Sulpice Church on the Left Bank of Paris at a similar demonstration. Paris police said the protest didn't respect social distancing and violated an order against praying in the streets, so they banned a similar rally planned for Sunday. Churches and other religious sites remain open to individual visitors.
With more confirmed virus cases than any other European country, predominantly Roman Catholic France banned Mass and other religious services for all of November as part of nationwide partial lockdown measures aimed at reining in infections and relieving pressure on hospitals. The vicar general of the Paris archdiocese, Benoist de Sinety, urged churchgoers to respect the rules on Sunday. However he called Mass "a vital necessity" and called it a kind of "suffering to not be able to go." While France is seeing signs that the surge may be reaching its peak, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin appealed to believers to watch services online and avoid public gatherings during the lockdown. One of France’s earliest virus clusters was traced to an evangelical religious gathering near Strasbourg in February. France now has reported 44,246 virus-related deaths, and COVID-19 patients occupy 96% of the country's standard intensive care unit capacity.
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