The gloom over Italy darkened Friday as the country reported nearly 1,000 new deaths, its worst single-day toll in an accelerating coronavirus pandemic that has brought the world to a standstill. Grim-faced Italian officials in Rome announced 969 new deaths at a daily briefing while, not far away and at the same time, Pope Francis held a stirring and historic “Urbi et Orbi” benediction at Saint Peter’s Basilica and an invocation pleading for divine intervention to end the pandemic.
Under a slight rain and in the evening shadows of the Vatican, Francis held the prayer in an empty square at the basilica. The public was not allowed to attend due to the nationwide lockdown to contain the virus. The silence was so profound the sound of birds cawing and rain dripping could be heard during his prayer, shown on live television in Italy and around the world.
Vatican News reports:
Standing in a deserted St. Peter’s Square with a steady rain falling, Pope Francis spoke to the world through all the means of modern communication: Facebook, YouTube, TV, and radio.
He prayed for the world at this critical juncture in the presence of two images that have accompanied the people of Rome for centuries: the ancient icon of Mary Salus Populi Romani – usually housed in the Basilica of St. Mary Major – and the miraculous crucifix kept in the church of San Marcello on the city’s Via del Corso.
Most importantly, the Pope exposed the Blessed Sacrament for adoration and imparted his Apostolic Blessing, offering everyone the opportunity to receive a plenary indulgence.
From the Catholic news site Crux:
When it comes to the “elite,” the problem, Francis said, “is that they have lost their memory of their own belonging to God. They became sophisticated, they passed to another social class, they feel like executives, but this is clericalism.”
On the other hand, “the people of God follow Jesus. They can’t explain why, but they follow him, he reaches the heart and does not grow tired,” he said.
Referring to the coronavirus and Italy’s strict lockdown, Pope Francis said he has seen such a mentality emerge even amid the outbreak, with some arguing that priests and religious sisters shouldn’t be allowed out to care for the poor or the sick for fear of spreading contagion.