Pope Francis delivered his most unusual Holy Week message to date, speaking by video to families, the elderly, the lonely and all self-isolating at home.
Speaking ahead of what would normally be the busiest week of the Church's liturgical calendar, culminating on Easter Day, Pope Francis instead gave a solo video message which he began by asking permission "to enter your homes in a different way than usual".
He described this as a "time of difficulty and of suffering" as Italy, hit serverely by Covid-19, remains on strict lockdown. The Holy See today decided to extend to 13 April its own measures to avoid the spread of coronavirus, in coordination with the those of the Italian authorities.
"I can imagine you in your families, living an unusual life to avoid contagion. I am thinking of the liveliness of children and young people, who cannot go out, attend school, live their lives.
"I have in my heart all the families, especially those who have a loved one who is sick or who have unfortunately experienced mourning due to the coronavirus or other causes. These days I often think about people who are alone, and for whom it is more difficult to face these moments. Above all I think of the elderly, who are very dear to me."
He welcomed the generosity of those who are putting themselves at risk to treat the sick in hospital, or maintain vital services.
"I also remember how many are in financial straits and are worried about work and the future. A thought also goes out to prison inmates, whose pain is compounded by fear of the epidemic, for themselves and their loved ones; I think of the homeless, who do not have a home to protect them."
It is a difficult time for everyone, he acknowledged, and for many it is exceptionally difficult.
"Let us try, if we can, to make the best use of this time: let us be generous; let us help those in need in our neighbourhood; let us look out for the loneliest people, perhaps by telephone or social networks; let us pray to the Lord for those who are in difficulty in Italy and in the world.
"Even if we are isolated, thought and spirit can go far with the creativity of love. This is what we need today: the creativity of love. This is what is needed today: the creativity of love."
He ended by urging people to "prepare for better times".