Priests, Doctors and Nurses Fighting COVID-19 Are 'Saints Next Door' Says Pope Francis at Empty Holy Thursday Mass

St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican was empty on Holy Thursday in a disquieting mass during which Pope Francis remembered the priests who had died on the frontline of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

"I can't let this mass go by without thinking about the priests: priests who give their lives for the Lord, who are servants," Pope Francis said in an extemporaneous homily that was live-streamed to the public. "In these past few days, more than 60 of them have died here in Italy while tending to the sick in hospitals, alongside doctors and nurses. They're the saints next door, people who gave their life to serve."

Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference, said 96 Italian priests have died amid the virus. One priest from Calabria, in the country's south, died while in New York City, the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States.

Pope Francis Easter
Pope Francis attends the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday in an empty St. Peter’s Basilica on April 9 in Vatican City. Photo by Vatican Pool/Getty Images

In a nod to the successful appeal of Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis' former treasurer who was acquitted of child sexual abuse on Monday, Pope Francis mentioned the "drama we have lived with priests who have done evil things," assuring worshippers that atonement for the misdeeds of others did no fall on the community wherein good-meaning priests carry out their ministry each day.

Several alter servers were present, as were the papal master of ceremonies Monsignor Guido Marini, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, the Archpriest of St. Peter's, a 9-member choir, five nuns and four laymen, lectors and Vatican security personnel in plain clothes, among other religious dignitaries.

The Mass of the Lord's Supper has often seen the pope visit prisons and centers for the sick and disabled, during which time 12 individuals receive symbolic feet washing.

Social distancing and the absence of a worshippers meant this year's feet washing was skipped.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.