Francis calls entire world to prayer on 25 March, Feast of the Annunciation

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Pope Francis is seen in a window greeting some religious sisters standing in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 22 March 2020, after reciting his weekly Angelus prayer from the library of the Apostolic Palace. The pope announced he will give an extraordinary blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) at 6 pm Rome time (4am on 28 March Australian Eastern Standard Time) on 27 March in an “empty” St Peter’s Square because all of Italy is on lockdown to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. Photo: CNS, Alberto Lingria, Reuters

Pope Francis said that at a time “when humanity trembles” because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he was asking Christians of every denomination to join together at noon on 25 March to recite the Lord’s Prayer. The Catholic Church and many others mark that day as the feast of the Annunciation.

“To the pandemic of the virus we want to respond with the universality of prayer, compassion and tenderness,” he said. “Let’s stay united. Let us make those who are alone and tested feel our closeness,” as well as doctors, nurses, other healthcare workers and volunteers.

Urbi et Orbi Blessing

Meanwhile, in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis said he will give an extraordinary blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) at 6 pm Rome time on 27 March (4am on 28 March Australian Eastern Standard Time).

The formal blessing – usually given only immediately after a new pope’s election and on Christmas and Easter – carries with it a plenary indulgence for all who follow by television, internet or radio, are sorry for their sins, recite a few prescribed prayers and promise to go to confession and to receive the Eucharist as soon as possible.

Worshippers pray during a 22 March Mass at St Gabriel Catholic Church, in Abuja, Nigeria, as African governments struggle to control the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Photo: CNS, Afolabi Sotunde, Reuters

After reciting the Angelus prayer on 22 March from the library of the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis announced his plans for the special blessing, which, he said, would be given in an “empty” St Peter’s Square because all of Italy is on lockdown to prevent further spread of the virus.

The Word, prayer, adoration and an Indulgence

With the public joining him only by television, internet or radio, “we will listen to the word of God, raise our prayer (and) adore the Blessed Sacrament,” he said. “At the end, I will give the benediction ‘urbi et orbi,’ to which will be connected to the possibility of receiving a plenary indulgence.”

An indulgence is an ancient practice of prayer and penance for the remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven. In Catholic teaching, a person can draw on the merits of Jesus and the saints to claim the indulgence for themselves or offer it on behalf of someone who has died.

Pope Francis also expressed concern for “authorities who have to take strong measures for our good” and the police and soldiers maintaining public order and enforcing the lockdown.