April 12 (UPI) -- Pope Francis, conducting Easter services inside a nearly empty St. Peter's Basilica, called for solidarity to deal with the coronavirus pandemic that has paralyzed the world in so many ways.
The leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics delivered his Urbi et Orbi -- to the city and the world -- behind closed doors with only a few congregants sitting one per pew and a small choir. His homily was delivered in several methods -- television, radio and streaming on the Vatican's website.
St. Peter's Square was deserted and lacking tulips and orchids amid a nationwide lockdown in Italy where nearly 20,000 people have died. Police barricades blocked people who would normally flock to hear the pope's mass and noontime Urbi et Orbi blessing.
He described the solitude as Easter's message of life and rebirth after Christ's crucifixion.
"For many, this is an Easter of solitude, lived amid the sorrow and hardship that the pandemic is causing, from physical suffering to economic difficulties," he said.
"This disease has not only deprived us of human closeness, but also of the possibility of receiving in person the consolation that flows from the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and Reconciliation. But the Lord has not left us alone. United in our prayer, we are convinced that he has laid his hand upon us."
"But the Lord has not left us alone," he added. "United in our prayer, we are convinced that He has laid His hand upon us."
He described the need for solidarity to confront the "epochal challenge."
"This is not a time for indifference. Because the whole world is suffering and needs to be united," the pontiff said.
He recounted another dark day in world history.
"After the Second World War, this beloved continent was able to rise again, thanks to a concrete spirit of solidarity that enabled it to overcome the rivalries of the past," he said. "This is not a time for self-centeredness, because the challenge we are facing is shared by all, without distinguishing between persons."
The pope repeated the Easter proclamation: "Christ, my hope, is risen!" as a message in "a different "contagion" transmitted "from heart to heart."
He said Christ's resurrection is not a "magic formula that makes problems vanish. It is the victory of love over the root of evil."
Francis noted this victory "does not 'by-pass' suffering and death, but passes through them, opening a path in the abyss, transforming evil into good."
This good is like a new flame that springs up "in the night of a world already faced with epochal challenges, and now oppressed by a pandemic severely testing our whole human family," he said.
The pope praised the doctors and nurses, and "to all who work diligently to guarantee the essential services necessary for civil society, and to the law enforcement and military personnel who in many countries have helped ease people's difficulties and sufferings."
Francis concluded his Urbi et Orbi message with a prayer: "May Christ, who has already defeated death and opened for us the way to eternal salvation, dispel the darkness of our suffering humanity and lead us into the light of His glorious day. A day that knows no end."