Pope Francis has asked God to stop the coronavirus epidemic and said people should use their time in quarantine to reconnect with their families.
It comes as Italy is battling with the most acute outbreak of COVID-19 outside of China, with 27,980 infections and 2,503 deaths as of Tuesday.
The Pope has been spending the last few days in the Vatican, although he defied the country’s nationwide lockdown on Sunday afternoon to pray for victims of the disease at two churches in the Italian capital.
Speaking to daily Italian publication La Repubblica on Wednesday, he said he had asked God to stop the epidemic in Italy ‘with his hand’.
The 83-year-old pontiff continued: ‘We must rediscover the concrete nature of small things, of making small gestures toward those around us – family, friends.’
‘They are gestures of tenderness, of affection, of compassion, which are nonetheless decisive and important – for example, a hot dish, a caress, a hug, a phone call.’
Italian rules instruct everyone to keep one metre (three feet) apart while in public but say nothing about what people can do at home.
Addressing those who have lost loved ones in the coronavirus crisis, the Pope said: ‘I ask everyone to stay close to those who have lost loved ones, to be close to them in every possible way.’
The pope himself has been suffering from a cold since last month.
His comments come after the Pope defied Italian government advice to stay indoors and on Sunday walked to church through Rome’s deserted streets to pray for the end of the virus.
He left the Vatican to visit two churches in the Italian capital, first praying in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore before strolling down the usually bustling Via del Corso.
He headed to the St Marcello al Corso, which poignantly hosts a crucifix carried in a 1522 procession in Rome when the city was stricken with plague.
Flanked by his security detail, the 83-year-old pope, who has been nursing a cold, decided to walk through the streets ‘as if on a pilgrimage,’ Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said.