Pope Francis celebrates Holy Saturday Vigil for Easter behind closed doors at St Peter’s Basilica


The Pope has celebrated the Holy Saturday Vigil for Easter behind closed doors at St Peter’s Basilica as Italy’s coronavirus death toll rises by to 619 to 19,468.

Francis led the Easter vigil Mass in the huge Vatican church without the rank-and-file as part of Covid-19 containment measures.

It comes after the Pontiff hailed an initiative by the Turin archbishop, saying making the Turin Shroud visible online meets the requests of the faithful who are suffering through the pandemic.

Pope Francis leads the Easter vigil Mass in St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican with no public participation due to the outbreak of the coronavirus

he led the ceremony surrounded by few others in the huge church as it was held behind closed doors due to the coronavirus

he led the ceremony surrounded by few others in the huge church as it was held behind closed doors due to the coronavirus

Francis led the Easter vigil Mass in the huge Vatican church without the rank-and-file as part of Covid-19 containment measures

It comes after the Pontiff hailed an initiative by the Turin archbishop, saying making the Turin Shroud visible online meets the requests of the faithful who are suffering through the pandemic

It comes after the Pontiff hailed an initiative by the Turin archbishop, saying making the Turin Shroud visible online meets the requests of the faithful who are suffering through the pandemic

Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia says he received thousands of requests from persons young and old to be able to view the Shroud (pictured) remotely

Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia says he received thousands of requests from persons young and old to be able to view the Shroud (pictured) remotely

Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia says he received thousands of requests from persons young and old to be able to view it remotely.

The Turin Shroud, a burial cloth some believe covered Jesus and which has links to a 16th-century plague in northern Italy, was put on view for faithful worldwide through video streaming on Holy Saturday to inspire hope.

The linen, kept behind bulletproof glass in a Turin chapel, is shown to the public only on very special occasions.

As a TV camera showed the 14-foot-long (four-meter-long) cloth in its showcase, Nosiglia opened prayers, noting Holy Saturday marks the wait for Easter, when Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead. He said people today ‘await to be liberated from the pandemic’ causing so many deaths, and said the shroud ‘opens hearts to faith and hope.’

The archbishop read aloud a letter from Francis, in which the pontiff expressed appreciation for ‘this gesture, which meets the request of the faithful people of God, so harshly proved by the coronavirus pandemic.’

Pope Francis is pictured with the few allowed inside the church as he leads the Easter vigil Mass in St Peter's Basilica on Saturday

Pope Francis is pictured with the few allowed inside the church as he leads the Easter vigil Mass in St Peter’s Basilica on Saturday

The Pontiff bows his head and prays as he continues to lead the ceremony on Saturday night. It is not clear how many others were inside the church

The Pontiff bows his head and prays as he continues to lead the ceremony on Saturday night. It is not clear how many others were inside the church

Pope Francis (left) leads the Easter Vigil Mass in St Peter's Basilica, behind closed door due to the outbreak of the coronavirus

Pope Francis (left) leads the Easter Vigil Mass in St Peter’s Basilica, behind closed door due to the outbreak of the coronavirus

This general view shows a deserted St Peter's Square in Rome, Italy, just before the Easter Vigil held by Pope Francis

This general view shows a deserted St Peter’s Square in Rome, Italy, just before the Easter Vigil held by Pope Francis

Francis also wrote that ‘in the face of the man of the shroud, we see also the faces of so many ill brothers and sisters, especially those more alone, and those less cared for, but also all the victims of wars and violence, of slavery and of persecution.’

Nosiglia then pressed one of his hands against the glass case and prayed before the cloth.

In the 16th century, Milan’s archbishop, the future St. Charles Borromeo, intensely desired to pray before the shroud while that city was ravaged by plague. The Duke of Savoy, in 1578, decided to bring the burial cloth of Christ from Chambery, in France, to Turin, according to a Vatican account of that period.

Charles made the pilgrimage to Turin on foot, praying and fasting during the journey.

Skeptics say the linen bearing the figure of a crucified man is a medieval forgery. Believers regard it as one of Christianity’s most awe-inspiring reminders of Jesus’ crucifixion.

This picture from inside the incredible Basilica shows the few who attended the service on Saturday as Covid-19 continues to take its toll

This picture from inside the incredible Basilica shows the few who attended the service on Saturday as Covid-19 continues to take its toll

Pope Francis is photographed (left) leading the Easter Vigil Mass in St Peter's Basilica, behind closed door due to the outbreak of the coronavirus

Pope Francis is photographed (left) leading the Easter Vigil Mass in St Peter’s Basilica, behind closed door due to the outbreak of the coronavirus

The cloth belongs to the Vatican, which has allowed its scientific testing.

The linen was part of Crusader booty taken from what was then called Constantinople to France in 1353.

Among the only three lay dignitaries in the chapel Saturday, all of them wearing protective masks, was Turin Mayor Chiara Appendino.

Last night Pope Francis presided at a ‘Way of the Cross’ service held in an empty Saint Peter’s Square on Friday because of the coronavirus outbreak and listened as both prisoners and their victims recounted their sorrows.

It marked the first time the procession, commemorating the last hours in Jesus’ life, was not held at Rome’s ancient Colosseum since the modern-day tradition was re-introduced by Pope Paul VI in 1964.

Francis watched from under a canopy on the steps of the basilica as 10 people – half from the Italian prison system and half from the Vatican’s health services – carried a cross and flaming torches towards him.

Francis watched from under a canopy on the steps of the basilica as 10 people - half from the Italian prison system and half from the Vatican's health services - carried a cross and flaming torches towards him

Francis watched from under a canopy on the steps of the basilica as 10 people – half from the Italian prison system and half from the Vatican’s health services – carried a cross and flaming torches towards him

It marked the first time the procession, commemorating the last hours in Jesus' life, was not held at Rome's ancient Colosseum since the modern-day tradition was re-introduced by Pope Paul VI in 1964

It marked the first time the procession, commemorating the last hours in Jesus’ life, was not held at Rome’s ancient Colosseum since the modern-day tradition was re-introduced by Pope Paul VI in 1964

Speakers read meditations as the group stopped 14 times to mark each of the 'Stations of the Cross' starting with the first when Jesus was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate to the last when he was buried in a tomb

Speakers read meditations as the group stopped 14 times to mark each of the ‘Stations of the Cross’ starting with the first when Jesus was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate to the last when he was buried in a tomb

Francis (pictured) has often brought attention to the problems of prisoners, including overcrowding, and more recently he has expressed concern that the coronavirus would spread unchecked in jails

Francis (pictured) has often brought attention to the problems of prisoners, including overcrowding, and more recently he has expressed concern that the coronavirus would spread unchecked in jails

Speakers read meditations as the group stopped 14 times to mark each of the ‘Stations of the Cross’ starting with the first when Jesus was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate to the last when he was buried in a tomb.

The meditations are written by different groups each year and this time they were penned by prisoners, including a murderer, from a jail in Italy, and prison guards, chaplains, and family members of both prisoners and victims. 

Francis has often brought attention to the problems of prisoners, including overcrowding, and more recently he has expressed concern that the coronavirus would spread unchecked in jails.

‘I became a grandfather in prison. I didn’t experience my daughter’s pregnancy. One day, I will tell my granddaughter the story of only the goodness I have found and not the evil I have done,’ read another meditation. 

The meditations are written by different groups each year and this time they were penned by prisoners, including a murderer, from a jail in northern Italy, and prison guards, chaplains, and family members of both prisoners and victims

The meditations are written by different groups each year and this time they were penned by prisoners, including a murderer, from a jail in northern Italy, and prison guards, chaplains, and family members of both prisoners and victims

Cantalamessa said the pandemic, which has killed nearly 19,000 people in Italy, should be a spur for people to appreciate what really matters in life

Pictured: The Pope on Friday night

Cantalamessa said the pandemic, which has killed nearly 19,000 people in Italy, should be a spur for people to appreciate what really matters in life. Left and right: The Pope on Friday night

According to tradition, a plague that hit Rome in 1522 began subsiding after the crucifix was taken around the streets

According to tradition, a plague that hit Rome in 1522 began subsiding after the crucifix was taken around the streets

Cantalamessa said the pandemic, which has killed nearly 19,000 people in Italy, should be a spur for appreciation

Cantalamessa said the pandemic, which has killed nearly 19,000 people in Italy, should be a spur for appreciation

The participants prayed before a wooden crucifix which is normally kept in a Rome church and brought to the Vatican for the special service. According to tradition, a plague that hit Rome in 1522 began subsiding after the crucifix was taken around the streets of the Italian capital for 16 days in 1522.

Cantalamessa said the pandemic, which has killed more than 19,000 people in Italy, should be a spur for people to appreciate what really matters in life. ‘Let us not allow so much pain, so many deaths, and so much heroic engagement on the part of health workers to have been in vain,’ he said.

‘Returning to the way things were is the “recession” we should fear the most,’ Cantalamessa added.

Earlier yesterday the Pope was helped to his feet as he celebrated Good Friday Prayers in St Peter’s Basilica with no worshippers present as the Italian public obey strict lockdown rules.  

In a sign of humble obedience, he prostrated himself on the floor of the nearly empty St Peter’s Basilica, where the papal preacher said the coronavirus has reminded people that they are mortal, not all-powerful. 

As Francis listened attentively, the Rev Raniero Cantalamessa told a few prelates, choir members and about a score of other faithful that ‘it took merely the smallest and most formless element of nature, a virus, to remind us that we are mortal’ and that ‘military power and technology are not sufficient to save us.’ 

The service is usually attended by cardinals, bishops and some 10,000 faithful. But coronavirus conditions meant it was attended by about two dozen people, including papal aides reading from scriptures and a small choir. 

In another change from the usual ritual dictated by the coronavirus outbreak, only the Pope kissed a crucifix at the end of the service. Usually it is also kissed by every cardinal, archbishop and bishop in the church. 

Pope Francis was helped to his feet as he celebrated Good Friday mass in St Peter's Basilica with no worshippers present as the Italian public obey strict lockdown rules triggered by the coronavirus pandemic

Pope Francis was helped to his feet as he celebrated Good Friday mass in St Peter’s Basilica with no worshippers present as the Italian public obey strict lockdown rules triggered by the coronavirus pandemic 

Francis tested negative for coronavirus, it was revealed on March 3, and is thought instead to have been suffering from a cold. The Pope also visits the Vatican Library to record messages for the world's 1.3 billion Catholics

Francis tested negative for coronavirus, it was revealed on March 3, and is thought instead to have been suffering from a cold. The Pope also visits the Vatican Library to record messages for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics

The head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State led the Good Friday Passion of the Lord with no public participation as millions of Italians stay at home over the weekend

The head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State led the Good Friday Passion of the Lord with no public participation as millions of Italians stay at home over the weekend 

Cantalamessa said that when the pandemic is over, ‘returning to the way things were is the ‘recession’ we should fear the most.’ He said the virus broke down ‘barriers and distinctions of race, nation, religion, wealth and power.’

During the basilica service, prayers were offered for those who contracted or succumbed to the virus, as well as health care personnel who cared for them.

Francis has tested negative twice for Covid-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, after fears that the 83-year-old Pontiff might have contracted the disease intensified last month. 

He was allegedly swabbed at St Martha’s guest house, which the Pope uses as his own resident. The building is also used by the Pop as a place to take meals and have private meetings. 

Francis has tested negative twice for Covid-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, after fears that the 83-year-old Pontiff might have contracted the disease intensified last month

Francis has tested negative twice for Covid-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, after fears that the 83-year-old Pontiff might have contracted the disease intensified last month

He was allegedly swabbed at St Martha's guest house, which the Pope uses as his own resident. The building is also used by the Pop as a place to take meals and have private meetings

He was allegedly swabbed at St Martha’s guest house, which the Pope uses as his own resident. The building is also used by the Pop as a place to take meals and have private meetings

Francis has been largely secluded since coming down with a cold at the end of February. Fears were first raised for the pope's health on Ash Wednesday, when he fell ill with a cough, fever, chills and sore throat

Francis has been largely secluded since coming down with a cold at the end of February. Fears were first raised for the pope’s health on Ash Wednesday, when he fell ill with a cough, fever, chills and sore throat

There are concerns for the Argentine-born pope if he contracts the virus due to his age and previous health conditions. He lost part of his lung and suffered from sciatica, a nerve condition that causes pain in his hip

There are concerns for the Argentine-born pope if he contracts the virus due to his age and previous health conditions. He lost part of his lung and suffered from sciatica, a nerve condition that causes pain in his hip 

Francis has been largely secluded since coming down with a cold at the end of February. Fears were first raised for the pope’s health on Ash Wednesday, when he fell ill with a cough, fever, chills and sore throat.  

He tested negative for coronavirus, it was revealed on March 3, and is thought instead to have been suffering from a cold. The Pope also visits the Vatican Library to record messages for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics.   

There are concerns for the Argentine-born pope if he contracts the virus due to his age and previous health conditions. He lost part of his lung and suffered from sciatica, a nerve condition that causes pain in his hip. 

This week the Pontiff advised believers and non-believers to ‘take the elderly and the young under their wing, that they take history under the wing, take the deprived under their wing’ during the coronavirus crisis. 

He previously told an Italian newspaper that he had asked God to stop the ongoing pandemic, and told people to use their time in mass quarantine to reconnect with their families. 

Speaking to La Repubblica, he said he had asked God to stop the epidemic in Italy ‘with his hand’.  

He continued: ‘We must rediscover the concrete nature of small things, of making small gestures toward those around us – family, friends. They are gestures of tenderness, of affection, of compassion, which are nonetheless decisive and important – for example, a hot dish, a caress, a hug, a phone call.’

Carlo Maria Vigano listening to remarks at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' annual fall meeting in Baltimore in 2015 when he was Apostolic Nuncio to the US. He accused Pope Francis of covering up the sexual misconduct of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and rehabilitating him from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI

Carlo Maria Vigano listening to remarks at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual fall meeting in Baltimore in 2015 when he was Apostolic Nuncio to the US. He accused Pope Francis of covering up the sexual misconduct of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and rehabilitating him from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI

Carlo Maria Vigano (right) and Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke (left) at a 'National March for Life' against abortion and euthanasia in Rome in 2018. The march was attended by families, children, and many volunteers

Carlo Maria Vigano (right) and Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke (left) at a ‘National March for Life’ against abortion and euthanasia in Rome in 2018. The march was attended by families, children, and many volunteers

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