Pope Francis has offered his prayers to the elderly, who are not only disproportionately susceptible to the new coronavirus, but also potentially suffering from loneliness.
“Today, I would like us to pray for the elderly who are suffering now in a particular way, with great interior solitude and sometimes great fear. Let us pray that the Lord would be close to our grandfathers and grandmothers — to all the elderly and give them strength,” Catholic New Service (CNS) cites the pope as saying on March 17 during morning Mass.
The pope added that the elderly “gave us wisdom, life, history — let us also be near them in prayer.”
The pope’s appeal comes as Italy enters its second week of lockdown in response to the new coronavirus pandemic.
The death toll from an outbreak in the country has risen in the last 24 hours by 345 to 2,503, an increase of 16 percent, the Civil Protection Agency said on March 17.
The total number of cases in Italy, the European country hardest hit by the virus, rose to 31,506 from a previous 27,980, up 12.6 percent, the slowest rate of increase since the contagion came to light on Feb. 21.
Of those originally infected, 2,941 had fully recovered compared to 2,749 the day before. Some 2,060 people were in intensive care against a previous 1,851.
The particularly high death toll can be attributed to the fact that Italy has the second-oldest population on earth, with some 23 percent of residents 65 or older, the New York Times reported.
CNS, citing data from the Italian National Institute of Health, reported that the median age of men and women who have died from the new coronavirus is 80.
In response to the ongoing crisis, the pope, the Vatican and the Church have all been forced to modify centuries of tradition in the predominately-Catholic country during the Lenten season.
The Vatican earlier announced that his Holy Weeks and Easter services next month will be held without public participation.
It was not clear how the massive events will be scaled down, but sources said officials were studying ways to hold them in indoor locations, including St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, with small representative groups attending.
The Holy Week services, which begin on Palm Sunday, lead up to Easter, the most important day of the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar for the world’s 1.3 billion members.