In spite of demands to stay at home as much as possible from Italian health authorities, Pope Francis on Sunday left the Vatican to make a surprise visit to two churches in Rome.
The pope’s trip included a brief stroll on a central Rome shopping street, Via del Corso, to pray for the end of the coronavirus pandemic.
Francis prayed in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, then went to a church which has a crucifix carried in a 1522 procession in Rome when the city was stricken with plague.
The Vatican’s Holy Week ceremonies will go ahead, but without public attendance as Italy tries to contain the coronavirus outbreak, the Holy See said on Sunday.
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday on April 5, with tradition calling for an outdoor mass in the square also on that day, when faithful clutch palm fronds and olive branches.
Italy is under severe lockdown, with the public restricted from leaving their homes except to buy food, go to work or other urgent reasons, and when outside must stay at least one meter (about three feet) away from each other.
The disease for most people causes only mild or moderate symptoms, including fever and cough.
For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
It is not clear if the Italian decree’s restrictions will be extended well into April.
Some churches in Italy are being allowed to stay open for individual prayer, but all public masses are forbidden during lockdown to discourage crowding.
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