Pope leaves Vatican City to pray | Daily News


Pope leaves Vatican City to pray

Pope Francis blessing the faithful from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.
Pope Francis blessing the faithful from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis left Vatican City on Sunday to pray in one of Rome's cathedrals for victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vatican said.

The 83-year-old pontiff first visited Rome's Santa Maria Maggiore basilica and then walked “on foot, as if on a pilgrimage” to the San Marcello al Corso church, the Vatican said in a statement.

The statement said Pope Francis selected the church because it holds a “miraculous crucifix which, in 1522, was carried in procession through the districts of the city” to mark the end of the Great Plague.

The pope prayed for “the end of the pandemic that affects Italy and the world, imploring for the healing of the many sick, and remembering the many victims,” the Vatican said.

Italy on Sunday recorded 368 new deaths from the virus, its highest one-day increase to date, taking the total to 1,809 -- the most outside China.

The statement said Pope Francis returned to the Vatican about 90 minutes after leaving.

Pope Francis earlier expressed his displeasure Friday with the move by the Italian authorities to close all Catholic houses of worship across Rome until April 3.

“Drastic measures are not always good,” the Argentine-born pontiff was quoted by the ANSA news agency as saying in his introduction to mass, in uncharacteristically blunt language for the head of the Church.

He nevertheless urged the faithful to show “responsibility” and “cooperate with the appropriate authorities,” ANSA reported.

The government has shut all shops except for pharmacies and groceries in the hope of stemming contagion and easing the burden on Italy's overstretched hospitals.

The Holy See initially resisted the drastic measure of closing places of worship in a country that is overwhelmingly Catholic. But the papal vicar for Rome said he was finally forced to take the step by “the even more binding restrictions placed on the ordinary movement of people” by the government.

“This provision is for the common good,” Rome vicar Angelo De Donatis conceded.

Catholics have been exempted from the obligation to attend mass as a result.

The draconian measures only allow Italians to go outside for work or in special circumstances -- such as visiting sick relatives. Everyone must carry with them a signed form to say they are aware of the risks of being outdoors.

Trains are still running but travellers must show documents to security guards at stations well as airports.

Streets in central Rome are almost completely empty and patrolled by soldiers armed with machine guns.

In video clips from the Tuscan city of Sienna and the southern city of Naples -- reminiscent of similar ones from the Chinese city of Wuhan during its quarantine -- people can be heard singing from their windows over the empty streets.

The pope nevertheless called for priests “to have the courage to go out and see the sick, bringing the strength of the word of God”.

“We continue to pray together for the sick, for health workers and for the many people suffering from this epidemic” Pope Francis said.

Deprived of mass, limited to watching the pope via livestream, and forbidden from holding weddings or funerals, Italy's Catholics have seen their daily lives turned upside down by new coronavirus restrictions.

In an effort to show compassion at one of the most trying times for Italians in generations, Pope Francis has asked priests to “have the courage to go out and visit the sick”.

More broadly, the virus has destablised almost every aspect of life.

Few, though, have felt the profound changes of the new measures on social distancing measures more than the Catholics, who comprise a majority in the nation of 60 million. The Italian government has included mass, weddings and funerals in its latest wave of restrictions, which are designed to keep people apart as much as possible.

This is not, as a rule, how the Catholic church works. A sign on the door of Saint Andrew's cathedral in Portogruaro, on the very edge of Venice, urges churchgoers to “devote a reasonable amount of time to prayer and meditation” at home.

The cathedral itself, like most other things in Italy, will remain closed until April 3.

Burials will continue at Portogruaro but not funerals.

Priests will “ensure the blessing of the body” but in the “strictest privacy”, according to the sign on the door.

The new restrictions put Italy in the somewhat absurd situation of fining its own citizens for paying proper respects to the dead.

Almost 50 people were ticketed in Sicily on Tuesday when a vigilant local alerted the police about an illegal funeral march.

Each mourner now faces a 206-euro ($233) fine or three months in jail, although most seem to agree this would be extreme. But odd things are now happening almost everywhere in Italy.


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