In a nearly empty St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Francis celebrated Easter in virtual solitude on Sunday, calling for the world to come together in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

The world is "oppressed by a pandemic severely testing our whole human family," Francis said, according to a translationprovided by the Vatican. In the midst of that suffering, Francis said, the message that Christ has risen is "the contagion of hope."

"For many, this is an Easter of solitude lived amid the sorrow and hardship that the pandemic is causing, from physical suffering to economic difficulties," Francis said. "May Jesus, our Passover, grant strength and hope to doctors and nurses, who everywhere offer a witness of care and love for our neighbors, to the point of exhaustion and not infrequently at the expense of their own health."

The surreal service, which was streamed live to millions around the world, echoed similar ceremonies throughout the world, held in front of empty pews as congregants stayed home and watched over the internet.

Francis implored political leaders to relax international sanctions, which he said harm citizens who rely on support from their governments. Francis called for nations to reduce — or even forgive — the poorest countries' debts. And he asked for an "immediate global ceasefire" for all nations engaged in conflicts.

Francis likened the current adversity to the hardship Europe faced rebuilding after World War II.

"This continent was able to rise again, thanks to a concrete spirit of solidarity that enabled it to overcome the rivalries of the past," Francis said. "It is more urgent than ever, especially in the present circumstances, that these rivalries do not regain force, but that all recognize themselves as part of a single family and support one another."

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