Pope Francis prostrated himself on the floor of an empty St. Peter’s Basilica on Friday to pray at a “Passion of the Lord” service commemorating Jesus’ last hours of life and his crucifixion, an event scaled down by coronavirus restrictions.
The Good Friday service is one of the rare times when the pope does not deliver a homily, leaving it to Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household.
Cantalamessa said the pandemic, which has killed nearly 19,000 people in Italy, should be a spur for people to appreciate what really matters in life.
“Let us not allow so much pain, so many deaths, and so much heroic engagement on the part of health workers to have been in vain. Returning to the way things were is the ‘recession’ we should fear the most,” he said.
The service is usually attended by cardinals, bishops and some 10,000 faithful.
But coronavirus conditions meant it was attended by only about two dozen people, including papal aides reading from scriptures and a smaller than usual choir.
In another change from the usual ritual dictated by the coronavirus outbreak, only the pope kissed a crucifix at the end of the service. Usually it is also kissed by every cardinal, archbishop and bishop in the church.
The global death toll from the pandemic hit 100,000 on Friday, according to a Reuters tally.
Cantalamessa said the pandemic “has abruptly roused us from the greatest danger individuals and humanity have always been susceptible to: the delusion of omnipotence”.
“It took merely the smallest and most formless element of nature, a virus, to remind us that we are mortal, that military power and technology are not sufficient to save us,” he said.
On Friday night, the pope was leading a Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession on the basilica’s outdoor steps in an empty St. Peter’s Square.
It will be the first time the procession is not being held at Rome’s Colosseum since the modern-day tradition was re-introduced by Pope Paul VI in 1964.