Pope Francis and Catholics around the world marked a solitary Easter Sunday, forced to celebrate the most joyful day in the Christian calendar amid the sorrowful reminders of the devastation wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.
Normally, St. Peter’s Square would be awash in fresh flowers on Easter Sunday, 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 deliver his noontime "Urbi et Orbi" speech and blessing "to the city and the world."
Like pastors around the world, Francis was to instead celebrate Easter Mass inside the largely empty basilica, while the faithful watched on TV at home. Rather than appearing on the basilica loggia to impart his blessing, he 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 contagion.
It was a scene being repeated around the world, with the faithful either staying home or practicing social distancing in those churches where public Masses were still being celebrated.
At his Easter Vigil on Saturday night, Francis urged the faithful to not let the darkness and sorrow of the COVID-19 pandemic rob them of hoping for a better future.
"Tonight we acquire a fundamental right that can never be taken away from us: the right to hope," he said. "It is a new and living hope that comes from God."
It was a message that was echoing in empty churches around the world on Sunday, including in the Holy Land.
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.
"Despite the sign of death and fear that we are seeing everywhere all over the world, we have to look at the good all those that are giving their lives for the others," he said.
Only a handful of clergy were on hand for the Mass, and the streets of the Old City surrounding the church were empty of pilgrims and vendors who would normally be doing brisk business.
"The message of Easter is that life, despite all will prevail," said Pizzaballa, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land.