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Pope Francis voices support for coronavirus victims in livestream message

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Nuns watch Pope Francis on a giant screen as he delivers the Angelus, in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, March 8, 2020.
Nuns watch Pope Francis on a giant screen as he delivers the Angelus, in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, March 8, 2020.   -   Copyright  Andrew Medichini/AP
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Pilgrims and tourists scattered sparsely in the immense Saint Peter's Square in Rome were able to listen to the pope's talk on giant screens on Sunday via video from his private library.

It was a first for Francis, who was unable to make his usual address from a window overlooking the square because of fears of coronavirus contagion among the crowds below.

"This prayer of the Angelus today is a little strange, with a pope in a cage in the library, but I see you, I am close to you!" launched the Argentine Pope in the preamble.

The traditional Sunday prayer of the Angelus has been held since 1954 at the window of the Apostolic Palace, overlooking the square.

But the Vatican announced on Saturday a change in habits to "avoid the risk of spread" of the coronavirus. The authorities had requested the move because of the risk of infection among people queuing to get through the security cordon.

The pope had a thought on Sunday for people affected by the new coronavirus around the world.

"I am close by the prayer of the people who are suffering from the current epidemic of coronavirus and of all those who care for them," underlined Francis, himself affected for ten days by a commone cold.

It was the first time that he had left his home at Saint-Marthe residence, a few steps from Saint Peter's Basilica, since the open-air audience on Wednesday, February 26, when he toured the square in the popemobile and shook dozens of hands.

"I join my brother bishops in encouraging the faithful to live this difficult moment with the strength of faith, the certainty of hope and the fervour of charity," said the pope, who finally did appear briefly at the famous window to greet the crowd.

Andrew Medichini / AP
Pope Francis waves briefly from his window overlooking St. Peter's Square, Vatican, Sunday, March 8, 2020.Andrew Medichini / AP

The crowd, more sparse than usual, strolled on Place Saint-Pierre on Sunday without being contained behind barriers and without passing security checks, which would have resulted in queues making it difficult to maintain the recommended safety distance between people, noted French press agency AFP.

The pope's weekly audience next Wednesday, an opportunity to see the pope in the flesh even closer on the square, will also take place in the same mode as this Sunday: the pope will read his homily live by video.