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Speaking through the rain, Francis read from the Gospel during the hour-long ceremony and urged the world to view the crisis as a reminder of basic values.
"My God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace,” Francis said from the steps of St. Peter's Basilica, where he normally draws tens of thousands of worshippers. “Lord, bless the world. Give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts.”
He walked to a canopy erected to keep him dry and sat alone where he spoke of the pandemic that has caused widespread lockdowns across the world. He reminded Christians to stick together amid the crisis and remember their call to faith.
“We have realized that we are in the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other,” he said. “From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace.”
At the end of the service, he delivered a blessing, the "Urbi et Orbi" prayer, normally reserved for Christmas and Easter.
He also praised those on the front lines of the virus -- doctors, nurses, grocery store employees, health care providers, police and volunteers.
The prayer service was one of several scheduled over the next few weeks that will see the 83-year-old pontiff virtually solo in the square or celebrating Masses for Holy Week and Easter Sunday in the shelter of St. Peter’s Basilica instead of outdoors in the company of tens of thousands of faithful.
The virus has hit Italy particularly hard. The country has more than 80,000 confirmed cases and more than 9,000 deaths. On Friday, Italian health officials recorded 919 deaths over the previous 24 hours.
Francis reportedly tested negative for the virus this week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.