Feb 26, 2020 - World

Pope Francis celebrates Ash Wednesday Mass amid Italian coronavirus outbreak

Pope Francis during Ash Wednesday Mass in 2019

Pope Francis during Ash Wednesday Mass in 2019. Photo: Vatican Pool/Getty Images

Pope Francis celebrated Ash Wednesday Mass at the Vatican, despite the cancellation of religious services elsewhere in Italy thanks to an ongoing outbreak of novel coronavirus, AP reports.

Why it matters: Mass gatherings in close proximity — like religious services and sporting events — could become an easy way for the virus to spread as the outbreak widens across the globe.

  • Venice, which has a number of confirmed coronavirus cases, cancelled its main Ash Wednesday Mass at the landmark St. Mark's Basilica.

The state of play: Italy has the fourth-largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases with 322.

  • Francis still kissed a child and shook hands with pilgrims during his usual audience in the Vatican's St. Peter's Square.
  • He also directly addressed the outbreak during his remarks, saying, "I want to again express my closeness to those suffering from the coronavirus and the health care workers who are treating them, as well as the civil authorities and all those who are working to help patients and stop the contagion."

The big picture: Taking on the virus is an issue for religious leaders across the globe.

  • Spiking coronavirus cases in Iran are raising concerns that the disease "infiltrated" a popular pilgrimage route for Shiite Muslims in the city of Qom, The Guardian reports.
  • Mosques in Iraq have been instructed to give advice on how to best avoid the coronavirus during their Friday sermons, Reuters notes.

Go deeper: Global coronavirus cases spread as U.S. soldier tests positive in South Korea

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