Pope Francis celebrated Palm Sunday services at a nearly empty St. Peter’s Basilica due to coronavirus restrictions for the second year in a row and said the devil is taking advantage of the pandemic.
“The Devil is taking advantage of the crisis to sow mistrust, despair and discord,” he said on Sunday (28), adding that the pandemic had caused physical, psychological and spiritual suffering.
Since being elected in 2013, Francisco has made it clear that he believes the devil is real, claiming in a 2018 document that it was a mistake to view him as a myth.
In the pre-coronavirus era, on Palm Sunday, which marks the start of Holy Week and leads to Easter, tens of thousands of people filled Saint Peter’s Square with olive branches and palm leaves intricately woven in an outdoor ceremony.
Instead, only 120 worshipers attended Sunday mass, joining the Pope and 30 cardinals in a secondary wing of the huge basilica.
“Last year we were shocked. This year we are under more pressure and the economic crisis has become severe,” Francisco said in his traditional speech.
Italy is in the middle of another national lockdown, which is expected to end after Easter. On Wednesday, the Pope ordered cardinals and some clergymen to cut their salaries to save the jobs of other officials.
Both in his homily during Mass and in his subsequent comments, Francis said the pandemic has made caring for those in need, the poor and the suffering more important than ever.
Almost everyone who attended Mass, except the Pope and the choir, wore masks.
In a small-scale version of a traditional Palm Sunday service, the 84-year-old Pope and Cardinals walked up to the altar holding palm leaves.
Palm Sunday celebrates the day when the Gospels say that Jesus entered Jerusalem and was greeted by the people, to be crucified five days later.
During mass, Francisco was limping. He suffers from sciatica, which causes pain in his legs when it occurs.
The rest of the Holy Week services will also take place with a limited number of participants.