(Natural News) Despite the Italian government’s ban on travel, Pope Francis has urged Catholic priests to go out and visit those who are suffering from the coronavirus.
The Pope made the statement during a mass he presided over by himself at the Vatican.
During his homily, the 83-year-old Pope prayed for the thousands who are currently sickened by the coronavirus, as well as the medical personnel who are caring for them.
“Let us pray to the Lord also for our priests, that they may have the courage to go out and visit the sick…and to accompany the medical staff and volunteers in the work they do,” Pope Francis — whose full name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio — said during the mass, which was live-streamed to the public.
Italy currently has over 10,000 coronavirus infections and more than 630 deaths, the highest in Europe as of press time. Most of the infections and casualties have been listed as having come from the nation’s Lombardy region.
Pope Francis — the first Jesuit pope and the first to come from the Americas — earlier canceled several engagements, including a supposed week-long Lenten retreat with senior Vatican officials, after a bout with the colds during an Ash Wednesday service.
The incident, which saw the Pope visibly sniffling during the service, triggered public speculation about his health.
According to the Telegraph, Italian-language newspaper Il Messaggero has issued a report that Pope Francis has tested negative for the coronavirus. The Messaggero report, however, did not mention when the Pope got tested for the disease.
The Vatican, in an attempt to assuage fears about the pontiff’s health, has released a statement about the Pope’s clean bill of health, noting that “…the cold that the Holy Father has had in the past few days is taking its course and there are no symptoms ascribable to any other pathologies.”
The Vatican, which is a City-State surrounded by Rome, has imposed restrictions on movement and contact among its personnel in a bid to contain the virus.
The Vatican, through the Holy See Press Office, earlier explained that such measures were necessary to “avoid the risk of the spread of the COVID-19,” due to the large groups that gather at security checks for access to the Square.
“With regard to the upcoming activities of the Holy Father, the Holy See, and the Vatican City State, measures are being studied to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Matteo Bruni, Director of the Holy See Press Office, said.
Any actions to be taken, Bruni added, will be done in coordination with measures decreed by the Italian authorities. (Related: Italy joins Japan in closing schools due to coronavirus)
This announcement comes after confirmation that one person inside Vatican City has tested positive for the virus. According to the Vatican, the five people who came into contact with that person are now under precautionary quarantine.
The Diocese of Rome has also canceled all “non-sacramental activities” until March 15. These activities, the Vatican said, include catechism classes, marriage preparation courses, retreats, pilgrimages and most other group activities.
Eucharistic celebrations, however, will continue normally in Rome’s churches—with certain restrictions. According to the Vatican, priests within Italy are discouraged from inviting the faithful to exchange the sign of peace and that Holy Water fonts in churches are to be emptied.
Caritas Rome, however, has stated that despite these precautionary measures, the Church’s acts of charity toward the poor will not stop.
According to Caritas, local churches are encouraged to keep their soup kitchens open, as well as to provide shelter for the homeless and refugees, provided they observe Italian hygiene and sanitary directives.
As of press time, the novel coronavirus has infected 119,006 and left 4,284 dead globally.
For more updates on the coronavirus, visit Pandemic.News.