Pope celebrates Easter of loneliness in virus blockade

VATICAN CITY: prayed for coronavirus victims in an unprecedented live broadcast Easter Sunday's message delivered from a hauntingly empty Vatican to a low world.

The 83-year-old pontiff spoke in a low voice in a solemn ceremony attended by only a handful of priests and a small choir that spread out on the large marble floor of St. Peter's Basilica.

The pandemic that breaks out outside the closed doors of the Vatican has killed more than 110,000 people and left billions behind bars in their homes.

The pope's message was broadcast live for the first time: a reverence for technology in the face of a new disease that has transformed society and altered the way religion is viewed.

"For many, this is an Easter of solitude lived amid the sorrow and hardship that the pandemic is causing, from physical suffering to economic difficulties," he said.

This illness has not only deprived us of human closeness, but also of the possibility of receiving in person the comfort that flows from the sacraments.

A few priests also gathered at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City -- under lockdown like the Vatican -- to say prayers at the spot where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected on Easter .

Most of the 1.3 billion Catholics in the world were in forced confinement while the Pope spoke, and almost all the churches in the world were closed on the holiest day of Christianity.

The bells rang in a still and completely silent Rome when mass began.

The Pope pleaded with world leaders to put aside their political differences and call on their armies during a global health emergency of a magnitude not seen in 100 years.

This is not a time for division, Francis said.

May Christ enlighten all who have responsibility for conflict, so that they have the courage to support the call for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world.

He said that health considerations required global powers to ease the crippling economic sanctions imposed on his adversaries, a possible reference to those weighing on the impact of the pandemic. I ran .

He called for a reduction, if not forgiveness, of the debt weighing on the balance sheets of the poorest nations and for the European nations to show the same solidarity that they did in the wake of World War II.

After World War II, this beloved continent was able to rise again, he said.

The European Union is currently facing an age-old challenge, on which its future but that of the entire world will depend.

The official toll in Europe was broken 75,000 moments before Francis spoke.

But it rose only 431 on Sunday in Italy, an encouraging sign that the continent's worst hit nation had survived the worst despite registering 19,899 deaths.

The Argentine-born pontiff offered a special message of comfort to those who mourn the loss of their loved ones (but) who, in some cases, could not even say goodbye.

The pope's virtual Easter Sunday message was the most vivid example of religious improvisation in the age of social distancing and confinement.

The faithful followed his advice and found creative solutions.

The Archbishop of Panama took off and blessed his small Central American nation from a helicopter.

Catholics in Spain threw religious music from their balconies during Holy Week.

Easter Sunday itself saw some faithful leave wreaths of flowers outside the locked doors of churches from where festive processions had departed in previous years in the southwestern Spanish city of Seville.

Three celebrated Italian musicians livestreamed a special Easter performance of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World " from a church in the country's COVID-19 epicentre near the devastated city of Bergamo.

Roman native Rosa Mastrocinque told AFP that her family joined two others for a joint prayer through a video conference application.

My husband works from home, my office is closed and the school is closed, said the 53-year-old man.

My spirituality has increased as a result.

A parish near the Philippine capital Manila stuck the empty benches with family photos that the faithful had emailed to the priest.

The Orthodox Church in Greece is planning to hold mass behind closed doors for its Easter on April 19.

Jews around the world did their best to use Zoom or other video conferencing apps to break up on location when the eight-day Passover holiday began Wednesday night.

State television in Lebanon broadcast masses under lockdown from an empty church north of Beirut.

Catholics in neighboring Syria, where celebrations continued in Christian neighborhoods in Damascus despite years of agonizing war, stayed home this time because of the virus, but many saw a Facebook Live celebration of the country's patriarch.

Sri Lankan Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith told a live mass broadcast that the south Asian country's Church had forgiven suicide bombers behind attacks that killed at least 279 people last Easter .

We offered love to the enemies who tried to destroy us, he said.

And in Britain, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of the Anglicans, celebrated Mass with thousands of followers in a video recorded from his kitchen.

The blockade forced the pope to improvise during Holy Week.

In previous years, he had observed the Holy Thursday service that marked Christ's Last Supper by washing the feet of 12 inmates on the outskirts of Rome.

The virus made it impossible this year.

Instead, Francis prayed for the dozens of priests and health workers who died across Italy while caring for the 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 to the Good Friday processions to highlight the sacrifices of his profession during the past month.

Francis himself has reportedly been twice screened for COVID-19 since he had a cold in late February.

It has only been seen by small groups of priests and other visitors to its Vatican residence in the past month.