Doctors, nurses in Good Friday procession at Vatican

A group of prisoners from Padua, and doctors and nurses from the Vatican Healthcare Department carry the cross and mark the Stations of the Cross during Good Friday's Way of the Cross (Via Crucis) at St. Peter's Square in The Vatican on April 10, 202 ( Photo by VINCENZO PINTO/AFP via Getty Images )

Nurses and doctors wearing their white hospital coats joined a torch-lit Good Friday procession in an hauntingly almost empty St. Peter's Square, as Pope Francis presided over the ceremony which couldn't be held at Rome's Colosseum as tradition holds because of Italy's lockdown in the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The participation of Vatican medical personnel provided a stark reminder of how the virus outbreak has infused almost all walks of life.

Francis watched from the steps outside St. Peter’s Basilica as the procession, which included a uniformed police officer, a Padua, Italy, prison chaplain and a former inmate, circled around the square’s central obelisk. The Way of the Cross procession evokes Jesus suffering on his way to be crucified.

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Earlier, at a Good Friday service inside the basilica, the papal preacher said pandemic has alerted people to the danger of thinking themselves all-powerful. During that service, in a sign of humble obedience, Francis prostrated himself for a few minutes on the basilica floor.

With rank-and-file faithful not allowed into the basilica in accordance with virus containment measures, and as Francis listened attentively, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa told a few prelates, choir members and about a score of other participants that “it took merely the smallest and most formless element of nature, a virus, to remind us that we are mortal” and that “military power and technology are not sufficient to save us.”

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Cantalamessa said that when the pandemic is over, “returning to the way things were is the ‘recession’ we should fear the most.” He said the virus broke down “barriers and distinctions of race, nation, religion, wealth and power.”