Pope urges solidarity on Easter filled with joy, sorrow
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis called for solidarity the world over to confront the “epochal challenge” posed by the coronavirus pandemic, as Christians celebrated a solitary Easter Sunday, blending the joyful feast day with sorrow over the toll the virus has already taken.
Families that normally would attend morning Mass wearing their Easter best and later join friends for celebratory lunches hunkered down at home. Police checkpoints in Europe and closed churches around the globe forced the faithful to watch Easter services online or on TV.
A few lucky Rome residents attended Mass from their balconies overlooking Santa Emerenziana church in the northern Trieste neighborhood, where a priest celebrated a rooftop open-air service.
“We feel close to each other despite this distance,” parishioner Luca Rosati said from his balcony. “We can experience from here what we normally would experience inside the church, as a community.”
‘Life will prevail’: At Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified and entombed, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa urged the faithful to not be discouraged.
“The message of Easter is that life, despite all, will prevail,” said Pizzaballa said during Mass attended by a few clerics, with the streets of the surrounding Old City devoid of pilgrims and vendors.
Across Africa, many Christians marked Easter at home, following services broadcast on television and radio. In Nigeria’s capital, a Catholic Mass was celebrated in Lagos’ empty cathedral, while Congo braced for a battle with both COVID-19 and an ongoing Ebola outbreak.
At the Vatican, Francis celebrated Mass in a largely empty St. Peter’s Basilica, with a handful of faithful sitting one per pew and and the choir’s “Kyrie” hymn echoing off the bare marble floors.
Piazza bare: Normally, St. Peter’s Square would be awash in fresh flowers for Easter, with tulips and orchids decorating the piazza’s promenade in a riot of color to underscore Easter’s message of life and rebirth following Christ’s crucifixion.
This year, however, the cobblestoned piazza was bare. Police barricades ringed the square, blocking the tens of thousands who would normally flock to hear the pope’s Mass and noontime “Urbi et Orbi” speech and blessing “to the city and the world.”
Francis instead stayed indoors, underscoring the solitude confronting all of humanity amid lockdown orders to prevent further virus infections.
In his Easter address, Francis urged political leaders to provide hope and opportunity to the millions of newly jobless. He appealed to the European Union in particular to step up to the “epochal challenge” posed by COVID-19, which has ravaged Italy, Spain and other EU countries.
“After the Second World War, this beloved continent was able to rise again, thanks to a concrete spirit of solidarity that enabled it to overcome the rivalries of the past,” Francis said. “This is not a time for self-centeredness because the challenge we are facing is shared by all, without distinguishing between persons.”
He urged the faithful to pray for the sick, the dead and the elderly confined alone. And broadening his horizons, he called for sanctions relief, debt forgiveness and ceasefires to calm conflicts and financial crises around the globe.
Francis’ lonely Mass was a scene that was repeated around the world, with churches either closed or, at the few still open requiring the faithful to practice social distancing. In South Korea, where one outbreak was tied to a church sect, services were largely held online.