Pope Francis swings a thurible at the start of Easter Sunday Mass behind closed doors at St. Peter's Basilica in The Vatican. Photo: AFP

Pope Francis offered a Easter Sunday prayer for those killed and suffering from a novel coronavirus that has killed more than 100,000 people worldwide, in a livestreamed message from an empty Saint Peter’s Basilica.

“Today my thoughts turn in the first place to the many who have been directly affected by the coronavirus: the sick, those who have died and family members who mourn the loss of their loved ones, to whom, in some cases, they were unable even to bid a final farewell,” the pope said.

He also called for the reduction or forgiveness of the debt of poor nations suffering in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

“May all nations be put in a position to meet the greatest needs of the moment through the reduction, if not the forgiveness, of the debt burdening the balance sheets of the poorest nations,” the pope said.

He called for an “immediate” ceasefire in global conflict and urged European nations to show “solidarity” in the face of a coronavirus pandemic.

“May Christ our peace enlighten all who have responsibility in conflicts, that they may have the courage to support the appeal for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world,” he added.

The pope added that it was time for Europe, which he described as his “beloved continent”, to “rise again, thanks to a concrete spirit of solidarity” similar to that shown after World War II.

In Jerusalem, a handful of priests celebrated Easter on Sunday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected.

In the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City, the church — which had not been closed over Easter for at least a century — has been shuttered to worshippers along with all cultural sites in the Holy Land to curb the spread of the Covid-19 respiratory disease. 

“Easter is a time for life,” said Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, who arrived at the church under the watchful eye of Israeli security forces. 

“Despite the signs of death everywhere, life will prevail as long as someone is giving life out of love for others,” he added, before entering the church. 

A few faithful had gathered at the church’s inner courtyard, including one man in an immaculate white gown who had prayed in front of the closed door. 

The Sepulchre is considered the holiest site in Christianity, and it typically attracts thousands of worshippers over the Easter weekend. 

But the Old City, in east Jerusalem, has been rendered a ghost town following strict social distancing measures imposed by Israel, which has reported nearly 11,000 cases of the novel coronavirus. 

Israel occupied east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day war and later annexed it, in a move never recognised by the international community. 

AFP

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