Pope Francis offers Easter prayer for coronavirus sick

Pope Francis has offered a Easter Sunday prayer for those killed and suffering from the coronavirus, which has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people worldwide. Breaking with centuries of tradition, the Pope livestreamed Easter Sunday mass to allow the world's 1.3 billion Catholics celebrate their holiest holiday under a coronavirus lockdown. "Today my thoughts turn in the first place to the many who have been directly affected by the coronavirus: the sick, those who have died and family members who mourn the loss of their loved ones, to whom, in some cases, they were unable even to bid a final farewell,"  he said from an empty Saint Peter's Basilica.

The Pope also called for the reduction or forgiveness of the debt of poor nations suffering in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. "May all nations be put in a position to meet the greatest needs of the moment through the reduction, if not the forgiveness, of the debt burdening the balance sheets of the poorest nations," he said. Fear and confusion in the face of the disease are reshaping society and transforming the way religion is observed.

Pope Francis cut a lonely but striking figure when he slowly entered a dark and starkly empty Vatican square in his white robe for a torch-lit Good Friday procession. It had taken place around the Roman Colosseum in the presence of at least 20,000 faithful for more than 50 years. But Rome and the rest of Italy have been living under forced confinement since early March.

His Easter Sunday Mass and "Urbi et Orbi" blessing drew 70,000 to St Peter's Square last year. The Vatican's entrance is now sealed off by armed police wearing facemasks and rubber gloves.

Officers stand outside St Peter's Square which is sealed off due to the Covid-19 outbreak

The pope has openly admitted that he was struggling along with everyone else to make sense of these extraordinary times. "We have to respond to our confinement with all our creativity," Francis said in an interview published by several Catholic newspapers this week.

"We can either get depressed and alienated ... or we can get creative." The pope's virtual prayers are just the most vivid example of religious improvisation in the age of social distancing and confinement. The faithful have already followed his advice and found creative solutions.

The Archbishop of Panama took to the air and blessed his tiny Central American nation from a helicopter. The faithful in Spain blasted religious music from their balconies during Holy Week.

Pope Francis offers Easter prayer for coronavirus sickArchbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa holds the Blessed Sacrament as he sits on a helicopter at Howard Air Force Base in Panama City

The scale of the unfolding tragedy has seen a New York City cathedral replace rows of wooden seats with hospital beds in case the surrounding emergency wards get full to overflowing. The Catholic Church in the Philippines is urging the faithful not to kiss the cross.

Its Orthodox counterpart in Greece is planning to hold mass behind closed doors for its Easter on 19 April. "Seven out of ten Greeks enjoy roasting lamb for Easter," Greek meat trader Angelos Asteriou told AFP in Paris. "That's not happening this year."

Jews across the world did their best by using Zoom or other video conferencing apps to "seder-in-place" when the eight-day Passover holiday started on Wednesday evening. Westminster Abbey in London is following the technological trend by releasing Easter podcasts for the faithful of the Anglican Church. Priests at France's Catholic shrine in the southwestern town of Lourdes began relaying nine consecutive days of prayers by Facebook Live and YouTube.

The pope himself has in previous years observed Holy Thursday service marking Christ's last supper by washing the feet of 12 inmates on the outskirts of Rome. The virus has now made this impossible. Francis instead said a prayer for the dozens of priests and health workers who have died across Italy while attending to the sick since the outbreak began in the Mediterranean country's north in February.

Pope Francis offers Easter prayer for coronavirus sick "They are the saints next door, the priests who gave their lives by serving," Francis said. He invited five nurses and doctors to accompany him for the Good Friday processions in order to highlight their profession's sacrifices over the past month.

Francis himself has reportedly been tested twice for Covid-19 since coming down with a cold at the end of February. He told the Catholic newspapers that people across the world could try to spiritually escape their confinement through introspection. "So, to be in lockdown, but yearning, with that memory that yearns and begets hope," the pope said.

"This is what will help us escape our confinement."

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