"Urbi et orbi" in Empty Vatican City

"Urbi et orbi" in Empty Vatican City

After the outbreak of coronavirus, Pope Francis delivered a special "Urbi et orbi" blessing from the steps of St. Peter's Basilica to an empty Vatican City.

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Although such an occasion would normally draw large crowds from across the world, Italy was in the middle of a national lockdown and many people were isolating at home during the coronavirus pandemic. So instead of gathering physically, the Vatican and Pope Francis live streamed the blessing, encouraging "everyone to participate spiritually through the means of communication".

Traditionally only given on celebratory occasions like Christmas and Easter Sunday, Pope Francis chose to deliver the "Urbi et orbi" blessing in order to pray for strength and an end to the coronavirus.

The term Urbi et Orbi evolved from the consciousness of the ancient Roman Empire. In fact it should be expressed by the Pope as the bishop of Rome (urbs = city; urbi the corresponding dative form; compare: urban) as well as the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, as it were, includes the whole world (orbis = earth; orbi the corresponding dative form; compare: Orbit).

The formula is found more frequently in the language of the Church, as in the inscription at the Lateran Basilica, after which the church is: omnium urbis et orbis Ecclesiarum mater et caput - "the head and mother of all churches of the city and of the earth" = the principal and mother of all churches of the world.

In the 4th century, Pope Damasus I wrote in a letter to the bishops of Illyricum:

"Hence, it is just, that all doctors of the law in the Universe of the World of the Romans, those, who are of the law, are wise, and do not teach the faith with various doctrines."

The ritual of the papal blessing Urbi et Orbi developed in the 13th Century during Pope Gregory X, who consulted before his election with Niccolò and Maffeo Polo.

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