A view of St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Friday, March 6, 2020. A Vatican spokesman has confirmed the first case of coronavirus at the city-state. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said Friday that non-emergency medical services at the Vatican have been closed so they can be sanitized following the positive test on Thursday. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Faithful may be banned from Easter celebrations with Pope, says Vatican

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — As of Saturday night, Catholic faithful are no longer able to purchase tickets to attend the Holy Week celebrations in St. Peter’s, as concerns about the coronavirus pandemic in Italy risk affecting Easter.

“Because of the current global public health emergency, all the Liturgical Celebrations of Holy Week will take place without the physical presence of the faithful,” read the website of the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household on Saturday (March 14).

The communication also said that Pope Francis’ General Audiences and his Angelus will only be available via live-streaming on the Vatican Media outlets.

Italy has enacted the second-strictest measures after China to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, which has already killed more than 1,400 people of the over 21,000 infected in the country, according to official government data.

The restrictions, which made all of Italy “a red zone” and asked citizens to stay at home and not go to work, are supposed to remain active until April 3, well before Easter on April 12. The Prefecture’s decision hints that the situation might not improve in time for Holy Week, the most important religious celebration for Catholics.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni clarified the situation in a statement to journalists on Sunday (March 15), saying that, “regarding the liturgical celebration for Holy Week, I can state that they are all confirmed.

“At the moment we are studying ways to do it and participate in a way that respects safety measures put in place to avoid the spread of the coronavirus,” he said, adding that more information will be released when the situation regarding the pandemic is clarified.

Faithful will be able to follow Pope Francis’ morning masses at Domus Santa Marta where he lives and any future celebrations online through Vatican Media outlets.