ROME - The Vatican has announced that the faithful will be readmitted to the general audiences Pope Francis holds on Wednesday as the Holy See slowly begins easing restrictions imposed by COVID-19. Francis has spoken about the pandemic on various occasions including the past week when he said it has both “exposed and aggravated” social inequalities. Sabina Castelfranco has more for VOA.
For more than six months, due to COVID-19, Pope Francis has been holding his customary Wednesday general audiences in his private library inside the Vatican and the faithful all over the world were able to receive his message streamed online, but no one was present.
The Vatican announced that as it begins easing restrictions imposed by the coronavirus, a limited number of faithful would start to be readmitted to the papal audiences starting Wednesday. The audiences will not be held in Saint Peter’s Square as in the past, but in a closed courtyard of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
There will be a maximum number of 500 seats available in the courtyard and entry to the area will open two hours ahead of the scheduled start of the audience.
Italy was the first country in Europe to be hard hit by COVID-19, which killed more than 35,000 people on its territory. The situation improved significantly over the summer but the number of infected people over the past week has started to grow again with more than 1,000 daily cases being reported.
This has led authorities to warn there could be new closures and new measures implemented if the numbers cannot be contained.
Due to the virus crisis, Pope Francis was forced to celebrate Easter this year in solitude, in front of an empty Saint Peter’s Square. The Pope has spoken on numerous occasions about the sorrow and hardship caused by the pandemic during these months and the consequent economic difficulties faced by many.
Pope Francis has said that the pandemic has both “exposed and aggravated" social inequalities. He added that not everyone can work from home and that school was “abruptly interrupted” for some children. He added that while “some powerful nations can issue money to deal with the crisis,” that would mean “mortgaging the future for others.” He said, “these symptoms of inequality reveal a social illness; it is a virus that comes from a sick economy.”
Pope Francis has always been fond of direct contact with people and shook the hands of many and hugged children and kissed babies in his audiences before the pandemic.
He was fond of travelling both in Italy and abroad. It remains unclear if and when the 83-year-old pontiff will be able to return to those habits.