VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis has led Palm Sunday services at a nearly empty St. Peter’s Basilica due to coronavirus restrictions for the second year in a row and has said the devil is taking advantage of the pandemic.
In the pre-coronavirus era, on Palm Sunday, which marks the start of Holy Week and leads to Easter, tens of thousands of people wrapped St. Peter’s Square with olive branches and woven palm leaves intricately in an outdoor ceremony.
Instead, only around 120 worshipers attended Sunday Mass, joining the Pope and around 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, ”François declared in his traditional Sunday lunch speech after mass.
Italy is in the middle of another national lockdown, which is expected to end after Easter. On Wednesday, the Pope ordered cardinals and other clerics to take pay cuts to save the jobs of other employees.
“The Devil is taking advantage of the crisis to sow mistrust, despair and discord,” he said, adding that the pandemic had caused physical, psychological and spiritual suffering.
Since being elected in 2013, Francis has made it clear that he believes the devil is real, claiming in a 2018 document that it was wrong to view him as a myth.
In his homily during mass and in his comments after, Francis helping the pandemic made more important than ever the care of people in difficulty, the poor and the suffering.
Almost everyone attending 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 commemorates the day when the Gospels say that Jesus entered Jerusalem and was greeted by the people, to be crucified five days later.
During Mass, the Pope had a marked limp. He suffers from sciatica, which causes pain in his legs when they rash.
The rest of the Pope’s Holy Week services – Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and next Easter Sunday, will also take place with a limited number of participants.