In a sign of humble obedience, Pope Francis prostrated himself for a few minutes on the floor of a nearly empty St. Peter's Basilica in a Good Friday service, 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 solemn prayer service was held, like all Holy Week ceremonies at the Vatican this week, without rank-and-file faithful as part of containment measures against the virus' spread.
Later, in an empty St. Peter's Square, Francis was set to preside over a nighttime procession to pay tribute to Jesus' suffering. Normally, thousands of pilgrims and Romans would have flocked to the Colosseum in Rome for a torch-lit Way of the Cross procession, presided over by Francis. But that was canceled because of the pandemic and moved to the vast Vatican square instead.
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.