Vatican City confronts Coronavirus

Vatican considers holding Sunday Angelus via video link.

Vatican officials are studying the possibility of Pope Francis giving his Angelus address on Sunday via video link rather than from the window of the papal apartments overlooking St Peter's Square, according to Italian news agency ANSA.

The prospect of the pontiff holding the Angelus from his Casa S. Marta residence, instead of Piazza S. Pietro, comes after a patient being treated at the Vatican's health facilities tested positive for the Coronavirus on 6 March.

The patient - whose identity has not been revealed - is the first person in the Vatican to test postitive for the virus, also known as COVID-19.

Pope Francis

The announcement came several days after Rome daily newspaper Il Messaggero reported that Pope Francis, suffering from a bad cold, had tested negative for Coronavirus.

The 83-year-old pontiff, who had part of one lung removed decades ago, has cancelled numerous recent engagements, however the Holy See has dismissed his illness as merely a cold “running its course, without symptoms linked to other pathologies.”

Angelus with Pope Francis. Photo Paria Serdtseva / Shutterstock.com.
Vatican City is, of course, surrounded by Italy which now has more than 4,600 Coronavirus infections and 197 fatalities, the second-highest number of deaths in the world after China.

ANSA reports that the Vatican's video link measures for the Angelus could also be adopted for the general audience, held each Wednesday in St Peter's Square.

The Vatican has introduced strict measures designed to prevent the spread of Coronavirus inside the tiny sovereign state whose 1,000 residents have been asked to "limit their travel and movements unless absolutely necessary."

The Holy See has also cancelled all meetings and social events involving "healthcare personnel or staff in charge of carrying out essential public services or utilities."

Other measures reportedly include the suspension of "all activities carried out in closed environments and / or of limited dimensions" which do not allow participants to maintain a distance between them of "at least one metre."

Vatican Museums

St Peter's and the Vatican Museums remain open although they have seen a dramatic drop in visitor numbers, reflecting the widespread cancellation by tour groups to Rome in general.

Inside St Peter's Basilica the holy water fonts have been emptied, while a statue of St Peter, venerated by pilgrims by kissing or touching its foot, has been cordoned off.

When the outbreak of Coronavirus first hit Italy last month, the Vatican closed the country's ancient catacombs, which fall under the remit of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, due to the "high concentrations of humidity, limited ventilation and closed spaces" in the underground chambers.

Diocese of Rome

New measures taken by churches around Rome include emptying holy water fonts, avoiding the sign of peace and requesting that the faithful receive Communion in the hand.

The Diocese of Rome has cancelled all “non-sacramental activities”, until at least 15 March, including catechism classes, marriage preparation courses, retreats, pilgrimages and most other group activities.

Easter

It is unclear now whether the open-air liturgies which take place during Holy Week will go ahead as normal.

In the meantime the Vatican has announced a day of fasting and prayer in Rome, to seek divine intervention in halting the Coronavirus, on 11 March.