The "Urbi et Orbi" ("To the City and the World") prayer recited by the pope is typically only offered on three occasions: on Christmas, on Easter, and when a new pontiff is chosen. On Friday, however, Pope Francis climbed the steps of St. Peter's Basilica in a rainy Vatican City and delivered the rare blessing to an empty St. Peter's Square, praying for an end to the coronavirus pandemic that's sweeping the globe. AFP says the pontiff's address, with no live audience, was a "historic first," with people watching from around the world on TV and social media, as well as listening in on the radio. "Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by," he noted, comparing the virus to a "tempest" and imploring the world to stick together to fight it.
"We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us now called to row together," he continued from under the canopy that had been set up to keep him safe from the elements, per the AP. The pope also offered praise for the "ordinary" and "forgotten" people who've been helping the world get through the pandemic, including "doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law-and-order forces, volunteers," and members of the clergy. The pope himself had reportedly been tested for the virus at the beginning of March and come up negative. Per Italian media, he may have been tested again (with another reported negative result) after a prelate who lived in a guesthouse in the Vatican was said to have been hospitalized Wednesday with COVID-19, AFP reports. (Read more Pope Francis stories.)