Pope prays for end of virus in visit to empty Rome

Francis left the Vatican unannounced on Sunday (March 15) to pray at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and then walked along one of Rome's main streets to visit St. Marcello church to pray before a crucifix that was used in a procession when the plague hit Rome in 1522.

A Vatican statement said he prayed for an end to the pandemic and also for the sick, their families and health providers and workers keeping pharmacies and food stories open amid a national lockdown.

Footage from the Vatican showed the pope and a small security team walking on an empty Via del Corso, which is usually packed with shoppers and people taking strolls on a Sunday.

The Vatican said earlier that his Holy Weeks and Easter services next month will be held without public participation, a step believed to be unprecedented in modern times.

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