VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis described solidarity as the way out of the coronavirus pandemic crisis as he held his first public audience in nearly six months Wednesday after a pause brought on by Italy’s outbreak.
“The current pandemic has highlighted our interdependence. We are all linked to each other, for better or for worse,” Francis said, after greeting about 500 Roman Catholic faithful who attended the audience in the Vatican’s San Damaso courtyard.
“To come out of this crisis better than before, we have to do so together, all of us, in solidarity,” he added.
Under strict safety rules, participants maintained social distance as they sat in the courtyard and were all required to wear masks. The Pope didn’t wear one as he met the crowd, but kept a safety distance from the faithful, who were cheering and waving at him.
“If the pope were a thaumaturge, I would ask him to end the pandemic, but unfortunately he doesn’t have this power,” Inigo Sanchez, one of the attendees, said. “So I just ask for closeness.”
Before the event, Francis greeted a priest from Lebanon, kissing a Lebanese flag the priest had brought with him to Vatican City. The pope also prayed for a few moments for the country, which is struggling to cope with political and economic instability.
During the audience, Francis also called for a day of prayer and fasting for Lebanon on Sept. 4, a month after the devastating explosion in Beirut that killed at least 190 people, injured more than 6,000 and caused major damage.
“One month after the tragedy that struck the city of Beirut, my thoughts are still with dear Lebanon and its particularly troubled population,” the pope said.
The general audience was the fist public one for Francis since the coronavirus hit Italy hard in early March. Amid a nationwide lockdown, the Vatican suspended all public events and audiences to comply with health and safety requirements.
Since then, Pope Francis had live-streamed his weekly events from the Vatican’s apostolic palace, making only brief appearances at the window overlooking St. Peter’s Square on Sundays.
The San Damaso courtyard, where the Vatican typically hosts heads of state during official visits, was chosen for Wednesday’s audience to keep the crowds smaller.