In Easter message, Pope Francis calls for access to care and vaccines for all

·3-min read

In his Easter message Pope Francis urged Catholics to remain hopeful, calling Covid vaccines an "essential tool" in ending the pandemic and urging their swift rollout to the world's poorest countries. His words come as Italy, the first country to be hit hard by the pandemic in Europe, celebrated its second consecutive Easter under lockdown.

Many chose to watch the pope’s mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica and follow his traditional “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and to the world) message and blessing on television. Just like last year, Saint Peter’s Square was empty and inside the basilica no more than 200 people attended the mass.

Pope Francis said his Easter message would "not offer us a mirage or reveal a magic formula. It does not point to an escape from the difficult situation we are experiencing".

"The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor."

The risen Christ, the pope went on, is hope for all those who continue to suffer from the pandemic, both the sick and those who have lost a loved one. He prayed that the Lord may give them comfort and sustain the valiant efforts of doctors and nurses.

The pope stressed how everyone and especially those most vulnerable must have access to the necessary care. He said vaccines are an essential tool in these times in the fight against the pandemic.

He urged the international community, in a spirit of global responsibility, to commit to overcoming delays in the distribution of vaccines and to facilitate their distribution, especially in poor countries.

The pandemic, the pope said, has unfortunately dramatically increased the numbers of poor people and the desperation of thousands.

He also added it was scandalous that "armed conflicts have not ended and military arsenals are being strengthened."

He called for an end to the war in Syria, "where millions of people are presently living in inhumane conditions", and in Yemen "whose situation has met with a deafening and scandalous silence".

Nationwide 'red' zone

The whole of Italy -- the first country in Europe to have been hit by the coronavirus in 2020 -- has been declared a high-risk "red zone" from Saturday through Monday, with restrictions on movement and restaurants closed along with non-essential retail.

With more than 110,000 deaths since the outbreak early last year and with daily infections still running at around 20,000, the Italian authorities decided no unnecessary risks should be taken. Hospitals and intensive care units are under pressure again and the roll out of vaccines has suffered delays.

The restrictions mean that Italians cannot travel to a different region to the one of their main residence, but they can travel to their second homes strictly as a family unit. Visits to relatives in friends have also been permitted only once a day and a maximum of two people. Shops, including food stores, were being closed Easter Sunday and Monday and bars and restaurants were only being allowed to offer take-away.

After more than a year, Italians are fatigued with the restrictions, but most comply with what they understand are needed restrictions. Those who do not and are caught face stiff fines.

Italians were being allowed to attend Easter services in churches close to their homes.