Pope Francis has announced a ‘marathon’ month of prayer throughout May with the aim of ending the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Pope has encouraged Catholics around the world to dedicate next month to praying for the end of the virus which has seen more than three million people die.
‘The initiative will involve all the Shrines of the world in a special way, so that they might encourage the faithful, families, and communities to recite the Rosary to pray for an end to the pandemic,’ the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization said in a statement.
The Pope, who has faced criticism over his reluctance to wear a face mask, will open the month of prayer on May 1 with a holy Rosary online broadcast.
For 31 days, the recitation of the Rosary from the various Shrines taking part in the month of prayer will be broadcast by Vatican News with the hope of ending the pandemic.
The global death toll from Covid-19 has surpassed 3 million, with the latest million virus casualties coming in just three months. Meanwhile, the number of cases has soared to more than 141 million.
Pope Francis will close ‘marathon’ month with another specially-broadcast prayer.
‘Dear brothers and sisters, once again this year, in various places, many Christians have celebrated Easter under severe restrictions and, at times, without being able to attend liturgical celebrations,’ he said.
‘We pray that those restrictions, as well as all restrictions on freedom of worship and religion worldwide, may be lifted and everyone be allowed to pray and praise God freely.’
Last month, the pontiff marked a second Palm Sunday during the pandemic and warned ‘the Devil is taking advantage of the crisis to sow distrust, desperation and discord’.
The pontiff traditionally leads a Palm Sunday procession through St Peter’s Square in front of tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists clutching olive branches and braided palms before celebrating an outdoor Mass.
But as the Pope did last spring, just weeks after the Covid-19 outbreak erupted in Italy and the country became the epicentre of the European epidemic, he led the solemn service that begins Holy Week inside St Peter’s Basilica.
In his traditional Sunday noon address after the Mass last month, Francis said that while shock dominated the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, people are now more weary, with the economic crisis growing heavier.
‘The Devil is taking advantage of the crisis to sow distrust, desperation and discord,’ he said, adding that the pandemic had brought physical, psychological and spiritual suffering.
Amid the suffering of the pandemic, he said: ‘We meet the faces of so many brothers and sisters in difficulty. Let us not pass by, let us allow our hearts to be moved with compassion, and let us draw near.’
Pope Francis last month also ordered cardinals to take a pay cut and reduced the salaries of most other Vatican clerics as the coronavirus pandemic hits the Holy See’s income.
Francis issued a decree introducing the proportional cuts starting on April 1.
The pontiff has often insisted that he does not want to fire people in difficult economic times, even as the Vatican continues to run up deficits.
The virus has wreaked havoc across the world, with many countries facing soaring cases and deaths.
The latest resurgence of infections, especially in Brazil and India, comes despite vaccination efforts.
Health officials blame more infectious variants that were first detected in the UK and South Africa, along with public fatigue with lockdowns and other restrictions.