(Update 15/3/20 11:50 CET: The Vatican has now confirmed that Holy Week celebrations in Rome will take place without the physical presence of the faithful, in an attempt to contain the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus).
A Dutch florist has cancelled the Vatican’s Easter flower supply in the first sign the Pope’s Holy Week could fall victim to the coronavirus restrictions.
– St. Peter’s Square, without Dutch flowers for Easter for the first time in 35 years
“The developments around coronavirus in Italy are very serious. In consultation with all concerned parties, it has been decided to cancel the floral decorations for Saint Peter’s Square this year”, Paul Deckers, the florist in charge of supplying flowers for Easter to the Vatican, said this week on Twitter, as reported by AFP.
“It’s the first time we haven’t done it”, Deckers told NOS public radio, referring on this occasion specifically to his supply of flowers for the Pope’s Easter Sunday Urbi et Orbi (“to the city [of Rome] and the world”) address and blessing.
For the past 35 years, tulips, daffodils, roses and orchids donated by the Netherlands have adorned St. Peter’s Square for the Pope and the Vatican’s Easter celebrations.
But Deckers said that it was possible that the Vatican could cancel Easter celebrations entirely, given that as of this Saturday there have been 17,660 coronavirus infections in Italy and 1,266 deaths.
“Given the evolution [of the virus] and the measures that are being taken in Italy, we’ve decided not to run the risk” of supplying flowers to Rome, the florist said.
“And since official ceremonies are being cancelled, one would think an event as big as this [the Pope’s Easter celebrations] will also not take place”.
The Pope’s Easter Sunday address last year drew some 70,000 people to the Vatican, in the hub of the Italian capital Rome.
But Italy is presently in the midst of a national lockdown as authorities struggle to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Holy Week this year begins on Palm Sunday, April 5, with Easter Sunday taking place on April 12.
The coronavirus restrictions mean the Vatican and the Italian Church have only a very small margin to ensure Easter observances can proceed in public as traditionally celebrated.
– Pope to continue to stream into this week daily Mass, Angelus, General Audience
In other coronavirus-related news from the Vatican this Saturday, the Holy See Press Office has today advised that due to the COVID-19 emergency, the pontiff has decided that his daily 7am Mass in the chapel of his residence, the Casa Santa Marta, will continue to be broadcast live into next week, including on this Sunday March 15.
“To comply with the rules that impose bans on gatherings in order to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the Angelus prayer of the Holy Father on Sunday 15 March and the General Audience of Wednesday 18 March will be broadcast live on television [and] also on the Vatican News website, with the images being distributed by Vatican Media to media that request them, in order to reach faithful from all over the world”, the Vatican Press Office statement today continued.
In the meantime, the coronavirus crisis in Italy shows no signs of letting up, with the country’s health authorities recording this Friday 250 deaths related to the virus in a single day, in what was a record number of deaths from the illness in such a short timespan.