Pope Francis held his first audience Saturday since Italy lifted its coronavirus lockdown, bringing together more than 200 doctors and nurses who battled the pandemic in the country’s hardest-hit region.
Francis addressed the professionals in the Vatican’s frescoed Clementine Hall, which sat empty for months because of the crisis. Everyone in the audience, all from the Lombardy region, wore masks.
“You were one of the supporting pillars of the entire country,” the pope told the crowd, Reuters reported. “To those of you here and to your colleagues all across Italy go my esteem and my sincere thanks, and I know very well I am interpreting everyone’s sentiments.”
Francis called the health workers “angels” for not only caring for the sick but lending their cell phones to dying patients so they could tell their loved ones.
Italy’s coronavirus death toll stands at nearly 35,000, the fourth-highest number in the world after the United States, Brazil and Britain.
At the end of the gathering, the pope joked they would have taken a group picture but explained he was being “obedient to the rules” and instead greeted them from a distance as he walked down the aisle.
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