Faith Matters: Finding light in the darkness of Covid-19
IT is one of the most extraordinary images yet to capture the Catholic Church's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
It shows a solitary Pope Francis, standing on a covered platform erected on the edge of a deserted St Peter's Square, offering prayer for 'the city and the world' against the backdrop of the Basilica's towering facade and a dark, rain-filled Roman night sky.
The Vatican would normally be packed to hear a Pope give the Urbi et Orbi blessing - traditionally given at Christmas and Easter - but we are not living in normal times.
In his homily on Friday, Francis acknowledged that the spread of coronavirus meant that "for weeks now, it has been evening".
"Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people's gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost."
But, said the Pope, God was asking people to embrace his cross and find "the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time".
"The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering," he said.
"The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved."
The Pope has also backed a call by the United Nations for a ceasefire in conflicts raging "in all corners of the world" to help slow the spread of coronavirus.
He also said his thoughts are with those who have to live in groups, citing in particular homes for the elderly, military barracks and jails.
During his traditional blessing on Sunday, the Pope called for "the creation of humanitarian aid routes, openness to diplomacy and attentiveness to those who find themselves in situations of grave vulnerability".
He cited UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres's appeal for a global truce "to focus together on the true fight of our lives" against Covid-19.
"Antagonism and differences must be overcome through dialogue and a constructive search for peace," he said.
Francis, as he has throughout most of the coronavirus emergency due to bans on public gatherings, addressed the faithful from his private library in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace, and not from a window overlooking St Peter's Square as is tradition.
Six employees of the Holy See and citizens of Vatican City State are currently affected by Covid-19.
The Vatican press office stressed that "neither the Holy Father nor his closest collaborators" were involved.