Pope Francis leads Way of the Cross service at empty St. Peter’s Basilica

For the first time, the Vatican’s Way of the Cross service was held in an empty St. Peter’s Basilica as Pope Francis watched and presided from steps nearby, the U.K.’s Daily Mail reports.

Traditionally, the Good Friday service marking the last hours of Jesus’ life is held in the ancient Colosseum in Rome, but the venue was changed in response to the coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdown orders.

Ten people carried a cross and torches, stopping at 14 stations of the cross to remember Jesus’ suffering as he was crucified.

This year, five of the 10 were prisoners from Italian detention facilities, signifying the Pope’s concern about incarcerated populations around the world. The other five participants were from the Vatican health services, the Daily Mail reported.

Special meditations incorporated

Meditations read at each of the 14 stations were also written by prisoners, prison guards and family members.

One man wrote that he had become a grandfather in prison and that he wanted to tell his daughter about God one day, according to the Daily Mail.

Another prisoner who wrote a meditation was an individual convicted of murder in Italy.

The service was televised and streamed on social media, as it usually is, but this year, those formats represented the only ways for people to see it.

Easter worship in America

As Easter Sunday dawned, countless churches in the U.S. held virtual services online. Some conducted drive-in services where parishioners would remain in their cars and listen to the service through their FM radios.

Louisville, Kentucky Mayor Greg Fischer (D) had outlawed drive-in church services even though such events would not be in violation of social distancing rules, but a federal judge issued a restraining order forbidding him to take any legal action against congregations or their members, according to the New York Post.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) threatened to collect license plate information of parishioners who attended church services and put them into quarantine, the Post reported. It was not clear whether Judge Justin Walker’s ruling would also impact the governor’s plans.

Some churches still planned to hold in-person services in various states across the country, and certain jurisdictions have designated churches as essential entities and are allowing traditional services to continue, though most still publicly discourage the practice.

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