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Easter Worship During Coronavirus: Empty Pews At The Vatican

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

It is an Easter Sunday like no other in memory. At the Vatican, Pope Francis celebrated mass inside the vast St. Peter's Basilica with only roughly a dozen in attendance, with one person seated per pew. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli watched the service on television from her apartment in Rome, and she joins us now. Good morning.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Happy Easter.

POGGIOLI: Happy Easter.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Please describe the scene at the Vatican for us. How did the pope look?

POGGIOLI: Well, unlike he did in all his recent events, very pensive, and he looks very tired. You know, normally for Easter, there could be up to 100,000 people in St. Peter's Square. This year, it's off limits. So he celebrated the mass inside, as you said, with very few assistants. And the bird's eyes images broadcast by the Vatican showed these - vast empty expanse with these very few small figures.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's very somber at a time which is so joyous in the Christian faith. Sylvia, after the mass, the pope did give his regular Easter address to the city and the world. Normally, he stands on the balcony of the Basilica, and he addresses the crowds who are cheering. Did Francis speak from the balcony this year?

POGGIOLI: No, he stayed inside. And his message, I think, was his most political ever. This is not a time for indifference, self-centeredness, division and forgetfulness, he said. The pandemic is oppressing and testing our whole human family. He called on politicians to provide the resources for everyone - everyone's needs to - and for international sanctions to be lifted and for debt relief for poor nations. But his special thought was for Europe, which, after World War II, he said, was able to rise again thanks to a concrete spirit of solidarity that enabled it to overcome rivalries of the past.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

POPE FRANCIS: (Speaking Italian).

POGGIOLI: "The European Union," he said, "is presently facing an epical challenge on which will depend not only its future but that of the whole world. Let us not lose the opportunity to give further proof of solidarity." Lulu, that's a clear reference to the north-south divide in the European Union over burden sharing and financial assistance for its hardest-hit southern members.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It seems like this pandemic has sort of transformed the pope himself in a way.

POGGIOLI: Yeah, I think he has emerged as a symbol of resistance. On March 27, he appeared alone under the rain in St. Peter's Square and prayed for an end to the epidemic. It was a powerful image. The way he speaks about the crisis, you know, it sort of reflects his vision of the Catholic Church that he calls a field hospital after battle. He says it's useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has cholesterol. You have to heal the wounds and then talk about everything else. That's his message in what he calls the - our darkest hour.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome. Thank you very much.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Lulu.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing in Non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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