ROME - As Italy struggles with a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, the government announced a new nationwide lockdown across the country for the Easter holiday weekend.
The measures come as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, officiated at the Way of the Cross procession in a nearly empty Saint Peter’s Square Friday, ahead of the Easter holiday Sunday, for the second consecutive year.
A new three-day national lockdown began Saturday in Italy as the country continues to struggle with a surge in COVID-19 infections and daily deaths amid a slow roll-out of vaccines.
The lockdown measures, enforced by thousands of police officers deployed across the country, do not allow any travel between Italian regions unless strictly necessary and limit visits to family members and friends to two people once a day. Customary Easter Monday picnics have also been banned.
The aim is to curb the spread of the virus as much as possible as hospitals and intensive care units countrywide are again seeing a resurgence of COVID-19 patients. After more than a year and over 110,000 deaths from the coronavirus, Italy has grown tired of the extended restrictions. But across the country, most of the population is complying with the rules.
At the Vatican, Good Friday began with a visit by Pope Francis to the vaccination center inside the city state where around 1,200 people were inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this week. It is part of an effort to include the “poor and most marginalized people” according to the Papal Almoner, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski.
The pope prayed for people suffering during the pandemic, asking for strength for those caring for the sick.
The “Via Crucis” or “Way of the Cross” procession was held for the second consecutive year in a nearly empty Saint Peter’s Square where candles were placed in a circle around its central obelisk.
The procession includes prayers at each of a series of images representing biblical events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The pandemic, however, has forced the traditional procession at Rome’s ancient Colosseum, normally attended by hundreds of people, to be scaled back and moved to the Vatican.
This year’s meditations were written and read during the ceremony by children and young people from Rome, many expressing feelings about this difficult year. One child wrote of feeling lonely because of the pandemic and not being able to visit grandparents, another of losing his grandad to the virus, alone in the hospital.
Italians will be allowed to attend Easter service this year officials said. Pope Francis is planning to hold an Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday and will be delivering his “Urbi et Orbi” or “To the City and the World” message on Easter Sunday, the most important day in the Christian liturgical calendar.