Italian police close St. Peter’s Square to public

By Courtney Mares and Hannah Brockhaus

Vatican City, Mar 10, 2020 / 06:29 am (CNA).- The Italian police closed St. Peter’s Square Tuesday following the Italian government decree extending quarantine measures to all of Italy to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The Italian authorities have jurisdiction over the square, which they closed shortly before noon on March 10.

Italian police told CNA the square is closed and no one may enter except for work purposes.

Swiss guards at St. Peter’s Square confirmed to CNA that tourists and pilgrims are not allowed to enter the basilica to pray because if the square is closed the basilica is also “automatically” closed. One said they are waiting for more information.

The Vatican City State has its own legal order that is autonomous and separate from the Italian legal system, but the Holy See Press Office director has repeatedly stated that Vatican City is implementing measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in coordination with the Italian authorities.

The Holy See Press Office said March 10 St. Peter’s Basilica and square are closed to tourists and guided visits from today through April 3, in coordination with the measures taken by the Italian authorities.

The Vatican pharmacy and supermarket remain open but with restricted access, whereas the mobile post office, photo service office, and bookstores will be closed.

The employee cafeteria inside the Vatican will be closed from March 11, with the possibility of a meal delivery service, the statement said.

Scheduled Masses in St. Peter’s Basilica and Sant’Anna in the Vatican took place March 9 and 10 before the closure, as did confessions inside of the basilica, following a previous Italian government decree March 8 suspending all public religious ceremonies.

The thousands of priests who currently reside in the Diocese of Rome are still allowed to celebrate Mass privately after the diocese canceled public Masses on March 8 to abide by the government decree.

Churches throughout the city have also remained open for private prayer with some parishes choosing to offer Eucharistic Adoration. Religious communities in Rome have also told CNA that they have continued to attend private Masses in their residences.

Bishops from France offered a private Mass in the crypt chapel of St. Peter’s Basilica at the tomb of St. Peter March 9, and sat one meter apart during their ad limina meeting with Pope Francis later that day.

The nationwide quarantine in Italy restricts movement around the country and between regions. Restaurants and bars must close at 6pm and gathering in groups is forbidden.

People are encouraged to stay home, but may move around the city for work, to go to the grocery store or pharmacy, or for medical care. In public, people are asked to keep one meter of distance from each other.

Several Vatican officials told CNA that work inside Vatican offices continues despite coronavirus.

Employees and officials have been asked to remain one meter away from each other at all times, to restrict visits from guests, and to not gather around the coffee machine, one official said. He also said essential offices are fully staffed and open for the time being.

An official from another office said he “would be very surprised” if he were asked to work from home, as this is never done. He said for him, work “continues as normal,” but there is some uncertainty for the future.

The Holy See press office is open its regular hours with some employees working remotely. The communications office, where Vatican Media employees work, is working out a system for coverage with fewer employees in the office, but remains open.

The story was updated at 7:15 am DST with the statement from the Holy See Press Office.

Photo: St. Peter’s Basilica and square closed to public March 10, 2020. Credit: Hannah Brockhaus/CNA.

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