15 March 2020, The Tablet

Pope's Holy Week to go ahead without people

by Christopher Lamb , CNS

Pope's Holy Week to go ahead without people

An empty Via della Conciliazione, just outside St. Peter's Square, is seen March 12, 2020.
CNS/Vatican Media

The Vatican has announced that Pope Francis will celebrate the Holy Week liturgies without anyone present as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Prefecture of the Papal Household announced that due to “the current global public health emergency, all the liturgical celebrations of Holy Week will take place without the physical presence of the faithful”.

It is expected that the Vatican’s Holy Week and Easter Sunday celebrations, the summit of the liturgical year normally attended by thousands, will be live-streamed.

Following the coronavirus outbreak in Italy, Pope Francis’ early morning Mass, Wednesday General Audience and Sunday Angelus have all been live-streamed behind closed doors.

The Vatican said this will continue until at least Easter Sunday on 12 April.

The decision to hold the Vatican’s Holy Week liturgies without people is unprecedented in modern times and comes as Italy continues to battle the spread of the coronavirus.

The entire country has been quarantined, while all Masses and funerals suspended until 3 April.

On Saturday the number of coronavirus cases rose to 21,157 including 1,441 dead, an increase of 175 in the past 24 hours. Of those who have contracted the virus 1,966 have been cured.

In Rome churches have been left open as long as they do not put people at risk of catching the virus. The Italian bishops have advised that places of worship be shut, although they left the final decision in the hands of local bishops.

Vatican offices will remain open to ensure "essential services for the universal church", but each office is being asked to evaluate the best ways to provide those services while observing health precautions and guidelines on safe distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The heads of the offices of the Roman Curia and of Vatican City State departments held an extraordinary meeting with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, presiding.

Afterward, the cardinal issued a notification asking every office "to identify essential services and positions with the aiming of assuring their minimum functioning."

The plan did not go into effect March 13, however, because it was a Vatican holiday marking the seventh anniversary of the election of Pope Francis.

Work that involves material subject to "pontifical secret" or "sensitive data" – such as the kind common for the Secretariat of State or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – is not to be done remotely, Cardinal Parolin said.

When going to the office is necessary, he said, there should be "flexibility" for all employees and a rotation system to ensure maximum coverage of the workday.

And, the cardinal said, employees who work remotely should not exceed their normal daily or weekly work hours.

Some offices, however, were closed. The papal almoner's office, which issues parchments attesting to papal blessings, announced it would close beginning March 14. However, the parchments still could be ordered online and would be shipped.

Payments for the parchments fund a variety of charitable giving, including assistance to individuals who need help paying utility bills or buying medication.

The papal almoner, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, said those in need or their pastors should leave a letter at the Sant'Anna entrance to Vatican City State. The cardinal also published his cellphone number for emergency needs.

Cardinal Michael Czerny, undersecretary for migrants and refugees at the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said the dicastery had adopted "smart working" procedures already, "facilitating work from home for most of its staff and, at the same time, guaranteeing all the essential services for which we are responsible."

"Today is a holiday marking the seventh anniversary of the election of Pope Francis," he told Catholic News Service March, "but generally the executive staff are working at the office and keeping the work flowing."

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