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Coronavirus: Pope Francis walks down Rome's deserted streets amid lockdown, prays for pandemic to end soon

Pope Francis went to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and walked 'on foot, as if on a pilgrimage' to St Marcello al Corso
UPDATED MAR 20, 2020
Pope Francis (Getty Images)
Pope Francis (Getty Images)

As of early March, Italy has been under lockdown, leaving the streets empty and people quarantined in their homes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Vatican City, the city-state surrounded by Rome, Italy, and the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church is also affected by the global infection and has one positive case.

Pope Francis left the Vatican to make a surprise visit on Sunday, March 15, to two churches in Rome to pray for the end of the coronavirus pandemic — a move that came even as Italian health authorities insisted people stay home as much as possible to limit contagion in the heart of Europe's outbreak, according to ABC.

What came as more of a surprise is that he decided to stroll through the empty streets on foot. The 83-year-old pontiff first visited Rome's Santa Maria Maggiore basilica and then walked "on foot, as if on a pilgrimage" to the San Marcello al Corso church, the Vatican said in a statement.

Interestingly, the St Marcello al Corso poignantly hosts a crucifix carried in an 1522 procession in Rome when the city was stricken with the plague.

The Pope has been suffering from a cold but has been tested negative for coronavirus. Before strolling down the streets of Italy, Francis delivered a blessing from his balcony window above a deserted St Peter's Square, which has been closed to worshippers as part of the country's lockdown.

Some 90 minutes after he left Vatican City, Pope Francis was back. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement that "as far as Holy Week liturgical celebrations are concerned, I can specify that all are confirmed."

Bruni added: "As things stand, under study are the ways they would be carried out and who would participate while respecting the security measures put in place to avoid the spread of the coronavirus." The ceremony can be followed on social media, television and radio.

Easter, or Pasqua in Italian, is a festive holiday throughout Italy. Religious parades and celebrations are held in many towns and cities nationwide. A statue of Jesus or his mother Mary is carried in street processions that involve large crowds of people. 

Usually, on Easter, thousands of people gather to fill St Peter's Square for an outdoor papal Mass, listen to the Pope's speech and receive his blessing, delivered from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica.

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday on April 5, with tradition calling for an outdoor Mass in the square also on that day, when the faithful clutch palm fronds and olive branches.

Since the lockdown might be effective until then, the Pope will address the masses available only in live streaming on the official Vatican News website.