Children lead the way in Italy’s reduced Good Friday service

Pope Francis held a scaled down 'Way of the Cross' service on Friday in a quiet St. Peter's Square due to Italy's lockdown measures. The poignant procession saw children take the spotlight to share their dreams and fears.

Children lead the way in Italy's reduced Good Friday service
A girl hands the Cross to Pope Francis as he leads the celebration of the Way of the Cross (Via Crucis) as part of Good Friday on April 2, 2021 at St. Peter's square in the Vatican, during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Angelo CARCONI / POOL / AFP)

Rome’s famous Via Crucis religious service commemorated the final hours of Jesus’ life in an empty St. Peter’s Square, cleared out of tourists in compliance with coronavirus restrictions.

Crowds numbering tens of thousands usually attend the torchlit vigil, but this year only around 200 people looked on at a distance.

READ ALSO: Why is Good Friday not a holiday in Italy?

Candles were placed across the square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica to form the shape of a cross. The tradition goes that the Pope moves around the 14 Stations of the Cross, saying meditations at each one.

Children and young people of Rome observe the Stations of the Cross during the celebration of the Way of the Cross (Via Crucis) led by Pope Francis (Rear C) as part of Good Friday on April 2, 2021 at St. Peter’s square in the Vatican, during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

This year, children wrote these prayers. Boy and girl scouts from Umbria and schoolchildren from Rome read out their worship, stopping at each Station as a group.

Each prayer related the experiences of children to those of Jesus. In a moving homage to the 13th Station, when Jesus was believed to be taken down from the cross, a child told a story of an ambulance coming to take his grandfather away, who later died of Covid-19.

READ ALSO: Six Easter-inspired Italian phrases explained

Children and young people of Rome (L) observe the Stations of the Cross during the celebration of the Way of the Cross (Via Crucis) led by Pope Francis (Rear C) as part of Good Friday. (Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP)

It’s the second consecutive year the proceedings didn’t take place at the capital’s Colosseum, which by now have become an Easter tradition since Pope Paul VI brought back the service in 1964.

Easter Masses are due to be held across the Easter weekend, culminating in the key date on the Christian calendar, Easter Sunday, when the Pope delivers his message, “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world).

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Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”