Pope Francis is helped to his feet as he celebrates Good Friday mass in St Peter’s Basilica

Pope Francis was helped to his feet as he celebrated Good Friday Mass in St Peter’s Basilica with no worshippers present as the Italian public obey strict lockdown rules triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. 

The head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State led the Good Friday Passion of the Lord with no public participation as millions of Italians remain in mass quarantine.

In a sign of humble obedience, he prostrated himself on the floor of the nearly empty St Peter’s Basilica, where the papal preacher said the coronavirus has reminded people that they are mortal, not all-powerful.

As Francis listened attentively, the Rev Raniero Cantalamessa told a few prelates, choir members and about a score of other faithful that ‘it took merely the smallest and most formless element of nature, a virus, to remind us that we are mortal’ and that ‘military power and technology are not sufficient to save us.’

Cantalamessa said the pandemic, which has killed nearly 19,000 people in Italy, should be a spur for people to appreciate what really matters in life: ‘Let us not allow so much pain, so many deaths, and so much heroic engagement on the part of health workers to have been in vain. 

‘Returning to the way things were is the “recession” we should fear the most,’ he said.

The service is usually attended by cardinals, bishops and some 10,000 faithful. But coronavirus conditions meant it was attended by about two dozen people, including papal aides reading from scriptures and a small choir.

In another change from the usual ritual dictated by the coronavirus outbreak, only the Pope kissed a crucifix at the end of the service. Usually it is also kissed by every cardinal, archbishop and bishop in the church.  

Pope Francis was helped to his feet as he celebrated Good Friday mass in St Peter's Basilica with no worshippers present as the Italian public obey strict lockdown rules triggered by the coronavirus pandemic

Pope Francis was helped to his feet as he celebrated Good Friday mass in St Peter's Basilica with no worshippers present as the Italian public obey strict lockdown rules triggered by the coronavirus pandemic

Pope Francis was helped to his feet as he celebrated Good Friday mass in St Peter’s Basilica with no worshippers present as the Italian public obey strict lockdown rules triggered by the coronavirus pandemic 

Francis tested negative for coronavirus, it was revealed on March 3, and is thought instead to have been suffering from a cold. The Pope also visits the Vatican Library to record messages for the world's 1.3 billion Catholics

Francis tested negative for coronavirus, it was revealed on March 3, and is thought instead to have been suffering from a cold. The Pope also visits the Vatican Library to record messages for the world's 1.3 billion Catholics

Francis tested negative for coronavirus, it was revealed on March 3, and is thought instead to have been suffering from a cold. The Pope also visits the Vatican Library to record messages for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics

The head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State led the Good Friday Passion of the Lord with no public participation as millions of Italians stay at home over the weekend

The head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State led the Good Friday Passion of the Lord with no public participation as millions of Italians stay at home over the weekend

The head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State led the Good Friday Passion of the Lord with no public participation as millions of Italians stay at home over the weekend 

The WHO said over 1.6million people have been infected with the coronavirus, while the global death toll nears 100,000

The WHO said over 1.6million people have been infected with the coronavirus, while the global death toll nears 100,000

The WHO said over 1.6million people have been infected with the coronavirus, while the global death toll nears 100,000

Later, in an empty St. Peter’s Square, Francis was set to preside over a nighttime procession to pay tribute to Jesus’ suffering. Normally, thousands of pilgrims and Romans would have flocked to the Colosseum in Rome for a torch-lit Way of the Cross procession, presided over by Francis. 

But that was cancelled because of the pandemic and moved to the vast Vatican square instead. 

Cantalamessa said that when the pandemic is over, ‘returning to the way things were is the ‘recession’ we should fear the most.’ He said the virus broke down ‘barriers and distinctions of race, nation, religion, wealth and power.’

During the basilica service, prayers were offered for those who contracted or succumbed to the virus, as well as health care personnel who cared for them. 

Francis has tested negative twice for Covid-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, after fears that the 83-year-old Pontiff might have contracted the disease intensified last month. 

He was allegedly swabbed at St Martha’s guest house, which the Pope uses as his own resident. The building is also used by the Pop as a place to take meals and have private meetings. 

Francis has tested negative twice for Covid-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, after fears that the 83-year-old Pontiff might have contracted the disease intensified last month

Francis has tested negative twice for Covid-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, after fears that the 83-year-old Pontiff might have contracted the disease intensified last month

Francis has tested negative twice for Covid-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, after fears that the 83-year-old Pontiff might have contracted the disease intensified last month

He was allegedly swabbed at St Martha's guest house, which the Pope uses as his own resident. The building is also used by the Pop as a place to take meals and have private meetings

He was allegedly swabbed at St Martha's guest house, which the Pope uses as his own resident. The building is also used by the Pop as a place to take meals and have private meetings

He was allegedly swabbed at St Martha’s guest house, which the Pope uses as his own resident. The building is also used by the Pop as a place to take meals and have private meetings

Francis has been largely secluded since coming down with a cold at the end of February. Fears were first raised for the pope's health on Ash Wednesday, when he fell ill with a cough, fever, chills and sore throat

Francis has been largely secluded since coming down with a cold at the end of February. Fears were first raised for the pope's health on Ash Wednesday, when he fell ill with a cough, fever, chills and sore throat

Francis has been largely secluded since coming down with a cold at the end of February. Fears were first raised for the pope’s health on Ash Wednesday, when he fell ill with a cough, fever, chills and sore throat

There are concerns for the Argentine-born pope if he contracts the virus due to his age and previous health conditions. He lost part of his lung and suffered from sciatica, a nerve condition that causes pain in his hip

There are concerns for the Argentine-born pope if he contracts the virus due to his age and previous health conditions. He lost part of his lung and suffered from sciatica, a nerve condition that causes pain in his hip

There are concerns for the Argentine-born pope if he contracts the virus due to his age and previous health conditions. He lost part of his lung and suffered from sciatica, a nerve condition that causes pain in his hip 

Francis has been largely secluded since coming down with a cold at the end of February. Fears were first raised for the pope’s health on Ash Wednesday, when he fell ill with a cough, fever, chills and sore throat.  

He tested negative for coronavirus, it was revealed on March 3, and is thought instead to have been suffering from a cold. The Pope also visits the Vatican Library to record messages for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics.   

There are concerns for the Argentine-born pope if he contracts the virus due to his age and previous health conditions. He lost part of his lung and suffered from sciatica, a nerve condition that causes pain in his hip. 

This week the Pontiff advised believers and non-believers to ‘take the elderly and the young under their wing, that they take history under the wing, take the deprived under their wing’ during the coronavirus crisis. 

He previously told an Italian newspaper that he had asked God to stop the ongoing pandemic, and told people to use their time in mass quarantine to reconnect with their families. 

Speaking to La Repubblica, he said he had asked God to stop the epidemic in Italy ‘with his hand’.  

He continued: ‘We must rediscover the concrete nature of small things, of making small gestures toward those around us – family, friends. They are gestures of tenderness, of affection, of compassion, which are nonetheless decisive and important – for example, a hot dish, a caress, a hug, a phone call.’

Carlo Maria Vigano listening to remarks at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' annual fall meeting in Baltimore in 2015 when he was Apostolic Nuncio to the US. He accused Pope Francis of covering up the sexual misconduct of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and rehabilitating him from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI

Carlo Maria Vigano listening to remarks at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' annual fall meeting in Baltimore in 2015 when he was Apostolic Nuncio to the US. He accused Pope Francis of covering up the sexual misconduct of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and rehabilitating him from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI

Carlo Maria Vigano listening to remarks at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual fall meeting in Baltimore in 2015 when he was Apostolic Nuncio to the US. He accused Pope Francis of covering up the sexual misconduct of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and rehabilitating him from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI

Carlo Maria Vigano (right) and Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke (left) at a 'National March for Life' against abortion and euthanasia in Rome in 2018. The march was attended by families, children, and many volunteers

Carlo Maria Vigano (right) and Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke (left) at a 'National March for Life' against abortion and euthanasia in Rome in 2018. The march was attended by families, children, and many volunteers

Carlo Maria Vigano (right) and Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke (left) at a ‘National March for Life’ against abortion and euthanasia in Rome in 2018. The march was attended by families, children, and many volunteers

It comes after an Italian archbishop who has represented the Vatican in the US and Europe called for a global exorcism prayed on Saturday to defeat the coronavirus pandemic. 

Carlo Maria Vigano told followers to recite an exorcism prayer to expel ‘Satan’ as the pandemic has sent millions into lockdown. He sent the message to the faithful to say the ‘Exorcism against Satan and the apostate angels’ psalm at home as mass gatherings including church services have been banned in much of Europe and the US.

First published by Pope Leo XIII in 1890, the prayer was written ‘to curb the power of the devil and prevent him doing harm’.Vigano said that people should join together in the same prayer over Easter. 

In an article written for Catholic new outlet, Life Site, Vigano wrote that as Christians cannot visit confession, they should still continue ‘praying to our Lord’ against ‘the Evil One’.

He said: ‘In these modern times of terrible tribulation, when the pandemic has deprived Catholics of Holy Mass and the Sacraments, the Evil One has gone into a frenzy and multiplied his attacks to tempt souls into sin.

‘These blessed days of Holy Week, which used to be the ideal time to go to Confession to prepare ourselves for our Easter Communion, now see us locked inside our houses, but they cannot stop us praying to Our Lord.’ 

A doctor from the Bassini Hospital making a test tube for a Covid-19 test swab in Milan, amid the coronavirus lockdown

A doctor from the Bassini Hospital making a test tube for a Covid-19 test swab in Milan, amid the coronavirus lockdown

A doctor from the Bassini Hospital making a test tube for a Covid-19 test swab in Milan, amid the coronavirus lockdown

Vigano added that ‘there is no need to go out, or to breach any of the laws currently in force’ when praying against the devil. The archbishop also asked his fellow priests to join the prayer and to wear a stole. 

Meanwhile, Italy recorded 570 coronavirus-related deaths today, down from 610, while the number of new cases slowed to 3,951 from 4,204 the day before, as hopes are raised that the pandemic is subsiding. 

The latest tallies broadly confirm what some epidemiological experts describe as a plateau of new cases and deaths, which are no longer accelerating but are still not falling steeply.

The total death toll since the outbreak came to light on February 21 rose to 18,849, the Civil Protection Agency said. The number of confirmed cases climbed to 147,577, the third highest global tally behind the US and Spain.

There were 3,497 people in intensive care today against 3,605 on Thursday – a seventh consecutive daily decline. Of those originally infected, 30,455 were declared recovered against 28,470 a day earlier.

A doctor at a new coronavirus unit at Casal Palocco hospital near Rome checking on a patient suffering from the virus

A doctor at a new coronavirus unit at Casal Palocco hospital near Rome checking on a patient suffering from the virus

A doctor at a new coronavirus unit at Casal Palocco hospital near Rome checking on a patient suffering from the virus

Italian firefighters in Catania, Sicily, commemorate their colleague, firefighter Giuseppe Coco, who died with the coronavirus

Italian firefighters in Catania, Sicily, commemorate their colleague, firefighter Giuseppe Coco, who died with the coronavirus

Italian firefighters in Catania, Sicily, commemorate their colleague, firefighter Giuseppe Coco, who died with the coronavirus

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is preparing to extend Italy’s lockdown until May 3. Italy’s main newspapers said Mr Conte will publish a decree banning people from taking walks or lounging in parks.  

Daily rises in new infections have slowed dramatically in recent days and Italy is gradually approaching a point when the number of people officially suffering from Covid-19 might begin to drop. 

The Corriere della Serra newspaper reported today that PM Conte will bow to growing pressure and allow a tiny number of businesses to reopen when the existing restrictions expire on April 13. These reportedly include book and stationery stores as well as lumber companies and factories that make agricultural machinery. 

Mr Conte said in a televised address that the sacrifices being made ‘were having results,’ and that for this reason ‘we can not render vain the efforts taken. If we give in, we risk that all the positive results could be lost. It would be a great frustration for all, and we would have to start again, also with an increase in the number of dead.’

The Government and scientists view these as businesses with the least amount of human interaction. Only grocery stores and pharmacies have been allowed to operate since a general lockdown began on March 12.

A mounted police patrol check the area around the the Colosseum, which is closed during the coronavirus emergency

A mounted police patrol check the area around the the Colosseum, which is closed during the coronavirus emergency

A mounted police patrol check the area around the the Colosseum, which is closed during the coronavirus emergency

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