An empty St. Peter's Square, more lockdowns mark second Easter amid pandemic

COVID lockdown leaves Vatican empty at Easter
COVID lockdown leaves Vatican empty at Easter... 02:22

For the Vatican, it was another empty Easter after Italy returned to a lockdown amid rising coronavirus cases in Europe. This is now the second holy week Pope Francis has had to celebrate amid the COVID-19 pandemic, making it nearly impossible for him to mingle with the people.

This isn't Pope Francis' style: walking the stations of the cross in a deserted St Peter's Square. He usually spends Good Friday at the Colosseum, surrounded by thousands of faithful.

"He likes to be with the people. He wants to go to the fringes, to the poorest of the poor, and the pandemic has robbed him of all of that... He said, 'I feel like a prisoner in the Vatican,'" CBS News Vatican contributor Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo told Chris Livesay.

But for such a determined pontiff, where there's a vaccine, there's a way. On Friday, Pope Francis made a break for it, paying a surprise visit to some of the 1,200 homeless people getting their COVID-19 vaccine at the Vatican during Holy Week. The pontiff paid it forward after he got the Pfizer shot earlier this year.

Like so many of the newly-inoculated, his first order of business was to travel. He visited Iraq in March — the first time a pope had ever visited the country — and prayed in churches desecrated and destroyed by ISIS, defying risks both to security and public health. While Francis and his entourage were vaccinated, the tens of thousands who gathered to see him were not. Something he said he prayed about, and suggested God promised he'd take care of them.

"I really believe he [Francis] wanted to go to Iraq to give a message to the world: 'That I can break norms in order to be with my people,' "Figueiredo said.

People have left the church in droves amid the priest sex abuse scandal, and in the past 20 years in the U.S. alone, Catholic church membership is down 13%, according to a Gallup poll taken before the pandemic. Locked-down churches around the world haven't helped.

The pandemic also hasn't helped churches' finances. With fewer people visiting the Vatican or attending churches, there has been an increase in empty collection plates and empty Vatican museums — a source of tens of millions of dollars in revenue.