As the death toll of the global coronavirus epidemic continues to rise, Pope Francis celebrated an extraordinary ritual Friday evening at the Vatican.

The pope prayed for an end of the epidemic and delivered his homily against the dramatic backdrop of an empty St. Peter's Square, glistening in the rain.

"We find ourselves afraid and lost," Francis said. "We were caught off-guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented ... all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other."

On Friday, Italy reported 919 new deaths from COVID-19, its highest daily death toll. The country now has more than 86,000 cases and more than 9,100 deaths. There are more than 558,000 cases and more than 25,000 deaths worldwide.

The pope's "Urbi et Orbi" (To the City and the World) blessing, normally delivered at Christmas and Easter, was livestreamed on social media and broadcast on television and radio.

The pope granted an exceptional plenary indulgence for Roman Catholics across the world suffering from the virus, and for health care workers — but most of all, for those who may die in isolation, unable to receive their last rites.

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