April 5 (UPI) -- For the first time, Pope Francis celebrated mass on Palm Sunday in the nearly empty St. Peter's Basilica because of limitations on large gatherings amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Parishioners worldwide heard and saw his homily via the Internet, radio and television.
Instead of speaking to thousands outdoors from his balcony, the pope gave his homily in the presence of only of a few priests, nuns and a smaller choir, who maintained a safe distance from one another, in the cavernous church.
Italy leads the world with more than 15,000 deaths among 66,000 fatalities globally.
He addressed the crisis.
"Today, in the tragedy of a pandemic, in the face of the many false securities that have now crumbled, in the face of so many hopes betrayed, in the sense of abandonment that weighs upon our hearts, Jesus says to each one of us: 'Courage, open your heart to my love. You will feel the consolation of God who sustains you'," he said.
Francis described the need to help others: "So, in these holy days, in our homes, let us stand before the Crucified One, the fullest measure of God's love for us, and before the God who serves us to the point of giving his life, and let us ask for the grace to live in order to serve. May we reach out to those who are suffering and those most in need. May we not be concerned about what we lack, but what good we can do for others."
He noted: "loving, praying, forgiving, caring for others, in the family and in society: all this can certainly be difficult. It can feel like a via crucis. But the path of service is the victorious and lifegiving path by which we were saved. "
He said to prioritize the important things.
"The tragedy we are experiencing summons us to take seriously the things that are serious, and not to be caught up in those that matter less," the pope said.
Specifically, he called on young people to help others "on this Day which has been dedicated to them for 35 years now."
The last World Youth Day gathering took place in 2019 in Panama City, Panama, and the next World Youth Day is scheduled for 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal.
He told young people: "Look at the real heroes who come to light in these days: they are not famous, rich and successful people; rather they are those who are giving themselves in order to serve others."
He ended his homily by saying: "Feel called yourselves to put your lives on the line. Do not be afraid to devote your life to God and to others; it pays! For life is a gift we receive only when we give ourselves away, and our deepest joy comes from saying 'yes' to love, without ifs and buts. As Jesus did for us."
Palm Sunday marks the first day of Holy Week and is one week before Easter.
Pope Francis also will give his Easter homily behind closed doors.