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Pope urges COVID-19 vaccines for poorest nations in Easter message

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Pope Francis celebrates the Easter Vigil in a nearly empty St. Peter's Basilica as coronavirus pandemic restrictions stay in place for a second year running, at the Vatican.
Pope Francis celebrates the Easter Vigil in a nearly empty St. Peter's Basilica as coronavirus pandemic restrictions stay in place for a second year running, at the Vatican.   -   Copyright  AP
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During his traditional Easter address, Pope Francis called the international community to overcome delays in distributing COVID-19 vaccines and to ensure supplies reach the poorest countries.

“Everyone, especially the most vulnerable among us, requires assistance and has the right to have access to necessary care." the pontiff said.

Describing vaccines as an ”essential tool" in the pandemic battle, Francis called for a “spirit of global responsibility” as he encouraged nations to overcome "delays in the distribution of vaccines and to facilitate their distribution, especially in the the poorest countries.”

He sounded a note of indignation at the start of his address, decrying that there has been no shortage of warfare during the pandemic.

“The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor. Nevertheless - and this is scandalous - armed conflicts have not ended, and military arsenals are being strengthened,'' Francis said, sounding angry. “This is today's scandal.”

The Pope has special words for people around the globe facing war and violence from Myanmar, to Syria and Yemen.

He delivered the speech about an hour after celebrating Easter Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, with the faithful in the pews awaiting his return barely numbering 200 in keeping with pandemic protocols.

Outside, St. Peter's Square was completely empty.

Francis urges 'hope'

On Saturday, Francis urged his coronavirus-weary flock to not lose hope even through the continued “dark months” of the pandemic as he celebrated a scaled-back Easter vigil service in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Due to social-distancing norms, only about 200 masked people were allowed to attend the service, which marks the period between Christ’s crucifixion and his joyous resurrection on Easter Sunday.

For the second year in a row, the Vatican cut out the traditional sacrament of baptism for a handful of adults to limit the chance of contagion. Usually, a long, late-night ritual, this year's vigil service also started earlier than usual to respect Italy’s 10 p.m. COVID-19 curfew.

But the service began in the dramatic way it always does, with the pope lighting a single candle in the darkened basilica and then sharing its flame with others until the pews slowly begin to twinkle and the basilica's lights are turned on.

In his homily, Francis said Easter offers a message of hope and new starts.

“In these dark months of the pandemic, let us listen to the risen Lord as he invites us to begin anew and never lose hope,” he said. “It is always possible to begin anew because there is a new life that God can awaken in us in spite of all our failures.”

Francis, who again eschewed a facemask, limped considerably through the service, in a sign that he is suffering through a prolonged bout of sciatica nerve pain.