In a video message, Pope Francis has invited “every family, every member of the faithful and every religious community” to pray the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary at 9:00pm tonight for deliverance from the coronavirus pandemic.

At the General Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis put his support behind the Italian Bishops’ call for prayers.

He also affirmed that he would be praying for and with the country in these trying times.

– Papal praise for brave priests

In a video message released today, the Pope praised those priests in Italy still seeking new ways in the midst of the health emergency to sustain the hope and faith of Catholics.

Priests like Father Giuseppe Corbari, the pastor of the Saints Quirico and Giulitta parish in Robbiano, on the outskirts of Milan in the hard-hit Lombardy region, who has been celebrating Mass with photos of his parishioners attached to their pews.

Or like Father Cesare Pluchinotta, a chaplain in Rome’s principal hospital for COVID-19 patients, who is praying for the clinic’s 194 coronavirus infected and giving Communion to those who ask for it dressed in protective gear and masks, and behind glass.

– 41,035 now infected in Italy and 3,405 dead, including at least 28 priests; Vatican steps up call to prayer

In his video message today, Francis also invoked the intercession of St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother on the sick and upon all those who take care of them.

In a statement, the Bishops of Italy thanked the Holy Father for his “closeness which becomes a motive for support and an encouragement to pray and walk together along the paths of the Gospel”.

They announced that the intention for Thursday’s Rosary “would be an invocation and supplication of the Father’s mercy to deliver us from this pandemic”.

The Italian Bishops’ initiative tonight comes after another dramatic 24 hours on the coronavirus front in the country, where as of this afternoon the COVID-19 disease had infected a total of 41,035 people and killed 3,405.

At least 28 priests are among the mortal victims of the virus.

The country-wide rosary tonight also arrives after even the Vatican Tribunal had to suspend hearings because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Vatican official in charge of overseeing religious life, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, issued an unprecedented call to religious around the world to step up their “concrete signs of closeness to our people”.

“Prayer, sacrifice, penance, fasting and charity: powerful weapons to grasp from the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus the grace of a total healing from such an insidious disease”, Braz de Aviz wrote in a letter to the world’s monks and nuns.

For his part, Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy Cardinal Beniamino Stella affirmed March 18 that despite the threat that the coronavirus will last into the Easter season “today there are still possibilities to transform this tragedy into an opportunity for faith”.

“I believe that, today, technology truly allows us to live a communion that would seem virtual. But, in fact, it is not just virtual, because I believe that the Holy Spirit also passes through these new things in today’s world and speaks to hearts, speaks to consciences, speaks to little ones and speaks to great ones”, Stella said.

– Full text of the Pope’s video message

Dear brothers and sisters,

I unite myself to the moment of prayer that the Episcopal Conference [of Italy] is promoting, as a sign of unity for the whole country.

In this unprecedented situation, in which everything seems to be crumbling, let us help each other hold fast to what really matters.

This is the advice I have received in so letters from your pastors who, in sharing such a dramatic moment, seek to sustain your hope and your faith with their word.

The Rosary is the prayer of the humble and of the saints. In its mysteries, they contemplate, along with Mary, the life of Jesus, the merciful face of the Father.

O, how much we all need to be truly comforted, to be wrapped in loving presence!

We measure the truth of this experience through our relationship with others. At this moment, they are our closest relatives. Let us be close to one another, being the first to be charitable, understanding, patient and forgiving.

Though you may be confined to your own homes, allow your hearts to expand so they may be available and welcoming to all.

Tonight, we are praying together, entrusting ourselves to the intercession of St. Joseph, Guardian of the Holy Family, Guardian of all our families. Even the carpenter of Nazareth knew precariousness and bitterness. Though he worried about the future, he knew how to walk the darkness of certain moments, always letting himself be guided by God’s will without reservation.

(With reporting by Vatican News)

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.