Pope Francis took steps to lead the global Church through the coronavirus by celebrating Mass in isolation on Sunday, with his words live-streamed from the papal library across the internet and to a sparse crowd gathered in St Peter’s Square. At the same time he offered his heartfelt prayers for those infected with Covid-19 and those caring for them.
The decision to axe the public Angelus was welcomed by the Italian Government, with one spokesman saying it showed “statesmanship and leadership” by the Holy Father and was in line with restrictions adopted by the Italian government.
At the time of writing, Italy has now recorded over 8,000 cases of coronavirus, by far the most cases outside Asia.
At 83, and with part of one lung removed from an illness decades ago, Pope Francis would be at risk for serious complications if he were to catch the virus. He came down with a cold two weeks ago, but appeared to have recovered and on Monday resumed private meetings, including with bishops from France and two departing ambassadors. He voluntarily took the test for coronavirus, which showed he did not have the potentially fatal virus.
Despite the move to axe public Mass, the Vatican, city state has confirmed one positive case. The Vatican Museums have closed and nationwide, the Italian Catholic Church has suspended masses and other celebrations to prevent people from congregating.
Across Italy, people have been told to avoid large gatherings, particularly indoors, and to keep a yard’s distance between people in public in the hopes of slowing the spread of the virus.
Pope Francis began his Angelus address acknowledging that “it’s a bit odd, today’s Angelus prayer with the pope ‘caged’ in the library,” but he said he could see there were people in the square and he was with all those who were praying with him.
“I am close in prayer to the people who are suffering from the current coronavirus epidemic and all those who are caring for them,” the pope said. “I join my brother bishops in encouraging the faithful to live this difficult moment with the strength of faith, the certainty of hope and the fervour of charity.”
“May this season of Lent help us give everything a Gospel sense, even this moment of trial and suffering,” Pope Francis said.
The tradition of the pope reciting the Angelus with visitors in St Peter’s Square began with Pope Pius XII in 1954; he had done a special radio broadcast of the Angelus on the feast of the Assumption, on 15th August, that year and decided it was a practice he wanted to expand.
Since then, the popes have kept the Sunday noon appointment except when they were travelling or, in the case of St John Paul II, when he was hospitalised. However, even after being shot in 1981, he recorded a brief message broadcast in St Peter’s Square.
Picture: Pope Francis is pictured on a video monitor in St Peter’s Square as he leads the Angelus from his library in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican on 8th March 2020. As a precaution to avoid spread of the coronavirus, the pope’s Sunday Angelus was broadcast on television and displayed on monitors in St Peter’s Square. After leading the Angelus through video the pope said he wanted to see the crowd in “real time” and came to the window of his studio to greet people in the square. (CNS photo/Paul Haring).