Pope Francis celebrated a surreal Palm Sunday in an empty St. Peter's Basilica and urged the people suffering from the coronavirus pandemic not to care so much about what is missing but how to alleviate the suffering of others.
The service that initiates Holy Week events before Easter usually draws tens of thousands of people to St. Peter's Square decorated with olive and palm trees. The service usually includes a long procession of cardinals, priests, and believers wearing palm fronds.
This time it was held by a secondary altar behind the main altar that Francis usually uses and attended by only about two dozen people, including a few adjutants, nuns, and a reduced choir, who all practiced social distancing.
The symbolic procession was only a few meters long and some potted olive trees were brought in.
The fair was broadcast to millions of people on TV and the Internet. Churches in countries around the world held similar virtual services this week due to limited assembly restrictions.
Francis cut a lonely figure and listened to three priests reading the gospel account of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and being celebrated as the Messiah.
Holy Week marks the time when Christians remember events that relate to the most important principles of their faith – that Jesus betrayed, crucified, and rose from the dead.
In his sermon, Francis asked his audience to turn to God "in the tragedy of a pandemic, given the many false guarantees that have broken down our hearts in the face of so many betrayed hopes of abandonment that weigh on them."
The pandemic could help turn fear into service, he said.
The Vatican is in its own block, largely the same as in Italy, where more than 15,500 people have died since the outbreak of the new coronavirus epidemic in northern Italy on February 21.
There are almost 125,000 cases of the virus in Italy and seven in the Vatican. The Pope and his closest collaborators have tested negative.
"The tragedy we are experiencing prompts us to take the serious things seriously and not to get involved in the less important ones; to rediscover that life is of no use if it is not used to serve others. Because life is measured by love, "said Francis on Sunday.
"May we address those who are suffering and who are most in need. Let us not worry about what we lack, but what we can do for others," he said.
All services of the Pope in Holy Week, which usually draw tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists to Rome, are held in the reduced version in the empty basilica.
The Good Friday procession on the cruise, which usually takes place around the Colosseum in Rome, takes place instead in the relatively small atrium of the basilica.
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and is generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)