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Sunday, 05 July 2020

Reopening of Saint Peter's marks first step for Italy's Catholics

AFP , Monday 18 May 2020
Vatican
People stand by Michelangelo's Pieta (Rear) while visiting St. Peter's Basilica as it reopens on May 18, 2020 in The Vatican. (AFP)
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Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican reopened to visitors on Monday after being closed for over two months under Italy's lockdown orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

A handful of visitors queued up, observing social distancing rules, and were watched by police officers wearing face masks before having their temperatures taken to enter the church, which has been closed since March 10.

Italy was the first country to go into a full lockdown over two months ago, bringing the economy to its knees.

The official death toll from the virus now stands at around 32,000.

The government started lifting restrictions on May 4, and on Sunday joggers, walkers and cyclists were plentiful on the streets of Rome's historic centre.

Restaurants, bars, cafes, shops and hairdressers, among other businesses, were all expected to reopen on Monday, with public masses also resuming.

In the face of much opposition, including from Pope Francis, churches in Rome were shuttered at the beginning of the coronavirus emergency in early March.

Most, however, opened shortly thereafter, with entry reserved for prayer only.

"I share the joy of those communities who can finally reunite as liturgical assemblies, a sign of hope for all society," Francis said on Sunday during his live-streamed prayer.

Italy's lockdown not only extinguished most business activity in the country, but radically disrupted Italians' personal lives, including attending mass.

- Basilica disinfected -

Francis has been livestreaming mass from a chapel at his residence inside the Vatican City.

The Argentine pontiff is not yet expected to lead any public religious ceremonies either in the basilica, which can accommodate 60,000 people, or in Saint Peter's Square, as the Vatican seeks to avoid crowds.

Francis will, however, celebrate a private mass on Monday, broadcast by video, in front of the tomb of John Paul II, on the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Polish-born pontiff.

In Milan, the Duomo cathedral will conduct mass at 1030 GMT. On Friday, the cathedral said it had introduced gadgets worn around the neck that beep softly, flash and vibrate if visitors approach too closely to one another.

In preparation for the reopening of Saint Peter's, the largest Catholic church in the world was disinfected on Friday, with workers in full protective suits and masks spraying down the surface of the 23,000-square metre (250,000-square foot) site.

The basilica, as well as three other papal basilicas, is expected to follow a recommendation from Italy's interior ministry limiting attendance at religious celebrations in enclosed places of worship to 200 people.

Across Italy's tens of thousands of churches, Catholics will be able to attend not only masses but also weddings and funerals, provided they abide by a series of measures, including wearing masks and sitting or standing well spaced apart.

More than 800,000 commercial activities which have been under lockdown since Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte imposed restrictions on March 9 should be able to reopen on Monday, said Confcommercio, Italy's largest business association.

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