Pope Francis today led hundreds of thousands of Christians around the world in praying the Our Father in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The prayer, said at midday in Rome, and at 11am in the UK, came as increasing numbers of countries went into lockdown and deaths and infections continued to increase.
"Today we have met, all Christians in the world, to pray together with the Our Father, the prayer that Jesus taught us," Pope Francis said.
"As confident children we turn to the Father. We do it every day, several times a day; but at this moment we want to beg mercy for humanity severely tried by the coronavirus pandemic. And we do it together, Christians of every Church and Community, of every tradition, of every age, language and nation.
"Let us pray for the sick and their families; for health workers and those who help them; for authorities, law enforcement and volunteers; for the ministers of our communities.
"Today many of us celebrate the Incarnation of the Word in the womb of the Virgin Mary, when in her 'Here I am', humble and total, the 'Here I am' of the Son of God was reflected. We too entrust ourselves with full trust to the hands of God and with one heart and one soul we pray."
He went on to read the Lord's Prayer in Latin.
In the Angelus on Sunday he had announced: "Dear brothers and sisters, in these days of trial, while humanity trembles with the threat of the pandemic, I would like to propose to all Christians to unite their voices towards heaven.
"I invite all the heads of the Churches and the leaders of all the Christian communities, together with all the Christians of the various confessions, to invoke the Most High, Almighty God, while simultaneously reciting the prayer that Jesus Our Lord has taught us.
"So I invite everyone to do it several times a day, but, all together, to recite the Our Father next Wednesday 25 March at noon, all together. On the day when many Christians remember the announcement to the Virgin Mary of the Incarnation of the Word, may the Lord hear the unanimous prayer of all his disciples who are preparing to celebrate the victory of the Risen Christ."
He was joined by church leaders worldwide, including the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who tweeted: "Using the words that Jesus taught us, we call out to God in the face of this pandemic. #PrayTogether #PrayForTheWorld."
Earlier, in his livestreamed general audience, Pope Francis spoke of the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, and St. John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium vitae, on the value and inviolability of human life.
"The link between the Annunciation and the Gospel of life is close and profound, as St John Paul pointed out in his encyclical," he said.
"Today, we find ourselves relaunching this teaching in the context of a pandemic that threatens human life and the world economy. A situation that makes the words with which the Encyclical begins even more demanding. Here they are: 'The Gospel of life is at the heart of Jesus' message. Welcomed by the Church every day with love, it must be announced with courageous fidelity as good news to men of all ages and cultures.'
"Like any Gospel announcement, this too must be first of all witnessed. And I think with gratitude to the silent testimony of many people who, in different ways, are doing their utmost to serve the sick, the elderly, those who are lonely and most destitute. They put the Gospel of life into practice, like Mary who, having accepted the angel's announcement, went to help her cousin Elizabeth who needed it.
"In fact, the life we ??are called to promote and defend is not an abstract concept, but always manifests itself in a person in flesh and blood: a newly conceived child, a poor marginalised person, a lonely and discouraged patient or in a terminal state, one who has lost his job or is unable to find it, a refused or ghettoised migrant ... Life manifests itself in people."
The defence of life for the Church is not an ideology, it is a reality, a human reality that involves all Christians, precisely because they are Christians and because they are human, he said.
"The attacks on the dignity and life of people unfortunately continue even in our era, which is the era of universal human rights; on the contrary, we are faced with new threats and new slavery, and legislation is not always to protect the weakest and most vulnerable human life.
"The message of the Encyclical Evangelium vitae is therefore more relevant than ever. Beyond emergencies, such as the one we are experiencing, it is a question of acting on a cultural and educational level to transmit to future generations the attitude of solidarity, care, hospitality, knowing full well that the culture of life is not an exclusive heritage Christians, but belongs to all those who, striving for the construction of fraternal relationships, recognize the value of each person, even when he is fragile and suffering."