VATICAN (UCAN): Pope Francis left the Vatican unannounced with a few security officers on March 15 on a pilgrimage to pray for an end to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. He walked down an empty Via del Corso, which is usually jammed with shoppers and people taking strolls on Sunday and made his way to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and then to the church of San Marcello al Corso to pray before a wooden crucifix said to have protected Rome from a great plague in 1522.
The pope prayed for an end to the pandemic and for the sick, their families and health providers and workers keeping pharmacies and food stores open amid Italy’s national lockdown.
The 83-year-old pope decided to walk through the streets “as if on a pilgrimage,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni explained.
“With his prayer, the Holy Father pleaded for an end to the pandemic that has struck Italy and the world,” Bruni said.
“He also implored the healing of the many sick people, remembered the numerous victims of these past days, and asked that their families and friends might find consolation and comfort. His prayer intention was also extended to healthcare workers, doctors, nurses and all those working in these days to guarantee the smooth functioning of society.”
The pope’s walkabout came just hours after it was announced that the Vatican’s Holy Week ceremonies would go ahead without public participation so as not to accelerate Italy’s devastating infection rate.
Media reports said that officials are studying ways to hold Holy Week and Easter services at indoor locations, including St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, with small groups attending.
Pope Francis had earlier delivered a blessing from a balcony above a deserted St. Peter’s Square, which has been closed to the public.
The country is battling the second largest Covid-19 outbreak outside of mainland China, with 2,503 deaths and 31,506 confirmed cases as of March 18.
In his weekly address, streamed live from the papal library, the pope praised priests for their creativity in tending to their flocks, especially in the Lombardy region where thousands have been hospitalised or are in quarantine.
Pope Francis said their efforts demonstrated there are “a thousand ways to be near” to the faithful, if not physically.
Although some Italian churches are being allowed to stay open for individual prayer, all public Masses have been suspended during Italy’s lockdown.