Pope gives Easter address to empty basilica, warns against 'selfishness' during pandemic

"Today my thoughts turn in the first place to the many who have been directly affected by the coronavirus," the pope said.
Image: Pope Francis reads his Easter message during mass at St. Peter's Basilica on April 12, 2020.
Pope Francis reads his Easter message during Mass at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City on Sunday, April 12, 2020.Vatican Media / via Reuters

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By Ben Kesslen

Pope Francis gave his annual Easter address Sunday to an empty St. Peter's Basilica as hundreds of millions of Christians celebrating the holiday have been ordered to stay home and traditions have been upended.

In his speech, the pope directly addressed the coronavirus pandemic and laid out his vision for a "contagion of hope."

"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," he said to an empty church.

A couple who gave their names only as Mr. and Mrs. Stewart watch Pope Francis celebrate Easter Mass from their home in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Sunday, April 12, 2020.Jason Cairnduff / Reuters

Saying this is "an Easter of solitude lived amid the sorrow and hardship that the pandemic is causing," the pope — broadcasting the address on the internet to the world's 1.3 billion Roman Catholics — called for solidarity and prayer during these difficult times. He also called on politicians "to work actively for the common good" and "to provide the means and resources needed to enable everyone to lead a dignified life."

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The world was already facing "epochal challenges" before the pandemic. Now, the pandemic is "severely testing our whole human family," he said in his speech, which was livestreamed around the world.

His address produced stark visuals. Vatican City, usually festooned with flowers to celebrate Easter, was bare and empty as police stood next to barricades blocking visitors from St. Peter’s Basilica.

"Let us not lose the opportunity to give further proof of solidarity, also by turning to innovative solutions," the pope said. "The only alternative is the selfishness of particular interests and the temptation of a return to the past, at the risk of severely damaging the peaceful coexistence and development of future generations."

"This is not a time for division," he continued. "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 cease-fire in all corners of the world."

In the U.S., some churches still planned in-person Easter services, despite warnings from officials about the coronavirus. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said anyone who violated the state's stay-at-home order to attend services would be subject to a 14-day mandatory self-quarantine.

Lidia Sirna contributed.