In livestreamed Easter mass, pope urges leaders to unite against Covid-19


World, Europe

The 83-year-old pontiff spoke to Catholics from a hauntingly empty Saint Paul's Cathedral.

Pope Francis gives Easter blessing following Easter Sunday Mass on Sunday. (AFP)

Vatican City: Pope Francis broke with centuries of tradition to livestream Easter Sunday mass to those suffering in the solitude of a coronavirus lockdown that forced the world's Catholics to improvise on their holiest day.

 The 83-year-old pontiff spoke to the world's 1.3 billion Catholics from a hauntingly empty Saint Paul's Cathedral at a ceremony attended by just a handful of priests and a small choir that was spaced out across the marble floor.

 The pandemic raging outsides the Vatican's locked gates has killed more than 109,000 people and left billions confined to their homes.

 The pope's message was livestreamed for the first time -- a bow to technology in the face of a new illness that has changed the shape of society and altered the way religion is observed.

 "For many, this is an Easter of solitude lived amid the sorrow and hardship that the pandemic is causing, from physical suffering to economic difficulties," the pope said quietly.

 A handful of priests and a few faithful also gathered at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City -- locked down like the Vatican -- to say prayers at the spot where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected on Easter.

Not a time for division

The pope urged the world's leaders to put aside their political fights and call back their armies during a global health emergency of a magnitude not seen in 100 years.

"This is not a time for division," Francis said.

"May Christ enlighten all who have responsibility in conflicts, that they may have the courage to support the appeal for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world."

He said health considerations required world powers to ease crippling economic sanctions imposed against their adversaries -- a possible reference to those weighing over pandemic-hit Iran.

"In light of the present circumstances, may international sanctions be relaxed, since these make it difficult for countries on which they have been imposed to provide adequate support to their citizens," Francis said.

He called for a "reduction, if not the forgiveness, of the debt burdening the balance sheets of the poorest nations" and for European nations to show the same "solidarity" they did in the wake of World War II.

"After the Second World War, this beloved continent was able to rise again," he said.

"The European Union is presently facing an epochal challenge, on which will depend not only its future but that of the whole world."