By Howard Monroe

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It’s Easter Sunday for Christians. It’s a time of joy to observe the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but the pandemic is still forcing some changes.

Last year Easter came less than a month into the lockdown and the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul and other churches were forced to close. That will not be the case this year.

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In the Philadelphia area, some of the faithful made it to church a day early. Eyewitness News was at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul where Archbishop Nelson Perez led Saturday night’s Easter vigil mass.

But on Sunday, as many more people head to the pews, there will still be a virtual congregation present.

The first mass at the basilica is set for 8 a.m. Sunday. While it won’t look like Easters of the past with overflowing pews, people will at least be allowed to sit inside.

Eyewitness News spoke with Father Dennis Gill about how they plan to pull off this service. They’ve held about a dozen of them over the course of this Holy Week.

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The pandemic has placed a strain on the many parishes across the Archdiocese of Philadelphia because the churches were closed, services had to be live-streamed, and set up many challenges for the church, including financial troubles.

“I wouldn’t say it was the darkest moment, but it brought things into a real stark — it brought things into a stark reality for me that everything about worship for us Christians is to do so in person. It was absolutely abnormal for us to be worshipping not together physically, although we were really blessed to have the opportunity to make available live streaming, and so people could partake that way, there’s nothing like being there,” Father Gill said.

Meanwhile, at ValleyPoint Church in Glen Mills, Lead Pastor Eric Koehler says there will also be changes to the services this year, but people will at least be allowed inside.

Similar to other churches they had to move their services online, and while people were able to hear the gospel, not having people in the pews placed additional strain on the many churches, including financial troubles. But with the pandemic appearing to be coming to a close, they are welcoming people back.

“I think it is a new beginning this year and it feels so filled with hope because of what we experienced last year with the onset of COVID,” Pastor Koehler said. “Our church didn’t meet in person last year. We were online and that worked well. But this Easter, we get to meet in person and I can’t wait to see our crowd and to see everyone gather. There will be a lot of joy in the place this year.”

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ValleyPoint will be hosting three services on Sunday. The Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul is holding four. Both churches say social distancing guidelines will be followed.