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Pope Francis celebrates Easter amid coronavirus pandemic

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Pope Francis and Christians around the world marked a solitary Easter Sunday, forced to celebrate the most joyful day in the liturgical calendar amid the sorrowful reminders of the devastation wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.

Families who normally would attend morning Mass in their Easter best and later join friends for celebratory lunches hunkered down at home. Police checkpoints and closed churches around the globe forced the faithful to watch Easter services online or on TV.

A few lucky Romans participated from their balconies overlooking Santa Emerenziana church in the northern Trieste neighborhood, where the priest celebrated a rooftop open-air Mass.

At the Vatican, Francis processed into a largely empty St. Peter’s Basilica for Mass, celebrated before a handful of token faithful sitting one per pew and with the choir’s “Kyrie” hymn echoing off the bare marble floors.

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.”

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Francis instead celebrated Mass inside the basilica, decorated with only a few potted palms and white hydrangeas. Rather than appearing on the basilica loggia to impart his blessing, Francis was to speak in front of the tomb of St. Peter, underscoring the solitude confronting all of humanity amid lockdown orders and quarantines to prevent further contagion.

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It was a scene repeated around the world, with churches either closed or, for the few still open for Mass, forcing the faithful to practice social distancing. In South Korea, where one outbreak was tied to a church sect, services were largely held online.

A small number of masked faithful attended service at Seoul’s Yoido Full Gospel Church, one of the biggest churches in South Korea. They were seated notably apart from each other, and choir members sang hymns from behind masks.

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.

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