St. Peter’s Basilica reopens to the public

People pray at the chapel of St. Sebastian, in St. Peter's Basilica on May 18. Photo: CNS/Reuters
People pray at the chapel of St. Sebastian, in St. Peter's Basilica on May 18. Photo: CNS/Reuters

VATICAN (CNS): People were allowed back in to St. Peter’s Basilica on May 18, almost 10 weeks after it was closed to the public in cooperation with Italy’s Covid-19 coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) lockdown measures.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass at 7.00am at the tomb of Pope St. John Paul II to mark the 100th anniversary of the Polish pope’s birth. Then, at 8.00am, the general public was admitted.

The basilica was sanitised on May 15 in preparation for the reopening. It had been closed to the public since March 10.

On the edge of St. Peter’s Square, a sign advises visitors they must wear a mask and keep two metres distance from others in order to enter the basilica.

The Vatican sanitation service placed hand-sanitiser dispensers at the end of the colonnade surrounding St. Peter’s Square. From there, there are keep your distance labels and tape on the cobblestone path leading to the health and security checks before entering the basilica.

At the end of the path, two members of the Knights of Malta, dressed in white, lightweight hazmat suits, use a small thermoscanner to scan vistors’ foreheads. If the person does not have a fever, he or she can proceed to the line for the metal detectors.

After the security check and before entering the church, visitors find another hand-sanitiser dispenser.

While many of the people attending the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis were not wearing masks, once the celebration was over, Vatican security began enforcing the facemask requirement and breaking up any situation where it looked like people were standing close to each other to talk, including journalists trying to interview some of the first people inside.

Vatican Media’s livestream did not show people receiving communion at the Mass. For Masses celebrated later that morning, the Eucharist was distributed only in the hand.

Vatican workers resanitised the altars and pews where Masses were celebrated with the public.

Except for the extra space needed for the line for security checks, St. Peter’s Square remained closed.

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