White drapes hanging from the church of San Raffaele are moved by the wind on March 19, 2020, in Rome's Trullo neighborhood. The Episcopal Conference invited faithful and religious community to recite the rosary, to display a lighted candle and a white cloth outside the window on the occasion of St. Joseph's feast day. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Pope Francis and Italian bishops call Italians to recite the rosary to end the pandemic

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Bishops in Italy, supported by Pope Francis, are calling the faithful to recite the rosary from their homes on Thursday (March 19) and pray for the end of the coronavirus pandemic that has crippled the country.

On Wednesday, Italy reported its highest death toll yet, with 475 people dying, most of them in the northern part of the country where the virus has had its largest outbreak.

Almost 3,000 people have died due to the virus in Italy to date and over 35,000 are infected.

A strict quarantine has been imposed in the country, with people being asked to stay at home. All flights are canceled in and out of the country.

Masses have been for the most part banned. The call for praying the rosary by the Italian Bishops Conference is the latest in a slew of spiritual activities designed to help people live out the faith while still respecting social distancing.

A Catholic worshipper using protective gloves prays with a rosary at the Santa Maria de Cana parish in Pozuelo de Alarcon, on the outskirts of Madrid, on March 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

“In this difficult time of suffering for the country, tomorrow’s prayer of the Rosary will be an invocation and plea to the mercy of the Father so that he may free us from this pandemic,” said a statement by the bishops on Wednesday.

At 9 p.m. local time Thursday, which also marks the feast of St. Joseph, Italians of faith will emerge from their balconies and windows to recite the rosary — in particular, the Mysteries of Light. Bishops also asked that faithful lay out a white drape and light a candle.

“I make the appeal of the Italian bishops my own,” said Pope Francis during his livestreamed general audience on Wednesday, “who in this time of health emergency have promoted a moment of prayer in the entire country.

“I will accompany you from here,” he added.

Referring to the feast of St. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, Francis asked that he protect families and especially the sick and all those who cater to their needs, including doctors, nurses and volunteers “who risk their lives in this service.”

The call of the Italian bishops was welcomed even outside the country.

The head of the Chaldean Church in Iraq, Cardinal Louis Raphaël I Sako, said that faithful in his county will join in reciting the rosary at the same time with Italians and the pope.

Iraq has already registered 120 cases of the coronavirus with a health care system generally unequipped to address the pandemic.

“In all the parishes of Baghdad there will be lit candles,” Sako told Vatican News in an interview published on Wednesday. “And the priests – because people won’t be present, it’s prohibited – will recite the Rosary through social media. In our cathedral, dedicated to St. Joseph, we will expose a large candle before the icon and statue of the spouse of Mary.”

(Editor’s note: RNS Vatican reporter Claire Giangravé will livestream the rosary and candles event on Religion News Service’s Facebook page at 4 p.m. EST. She, like most Italians, has been quarantined for the last 11 days.)

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