VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis celebrated Palm Sunday Mass inside St. Peter’s Basilica without the public because of the coronavirus pandemic, which he said should focus people’s attention on what’s most important, despite heavy hearts: using one’s life to serve others.
Looking pensive and sounding subdued, Francis led the first of several solemn Holy Week ceremonies that will shut out rank-and-file faithful from attending, as Italy’s rigid lockdown measures forbid public gatherings.
Besides his aides, a few invited prelates, nuns and laypeople were present, sitting solo in the first pews and staggered far apart to reduce the risks of contagion. A male choir sang hymns, accompanied by an organist.
Wearing red robes to symbolize the blood shed by Jesus in the hours of his crucifixion, Francis blessed braided palms.
“Today, in the tragedy of a pandemic, in the face of the many false securities that have now crumbled, in the face of so many hopes betrayed, in the sense of abandonment that weighs upon our hearts, Jesus says to each one of us: ‘Courage, open your heart to my love,’ ” Francis said.
Palm Sunday opens Holy Week leading up to Easter, which this year falls on April 12. Among the usual events is the Good Friday Way of the Cross procession. This year, instead of the customary candlelit procession at Rome’s Colosseum, the Way of the Cross will be presided over by Francis in St. Peter’s Square without the public, in keeping with Italian and Vatican anti-contagion bans on gatherings.
The Vatican has said there are seven cases of COVID-19 among the residents or employees of the tiny independent city-state.
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