Rome — This is not the Holy Week that Pope Francis wanted. On Palm Sunday, Francis said the devil was taking advantage of the pandemic, which, for the second year in a row, is taking a toll on people’s lives, as well as Church collection plates.

He’s long been called “the People’s Pope,” but as CBS News correspondent Chris Livesay reports, since the pandemic struck, Francis has been the pope with no people.

The pontiff may lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, but it’s the virus still reigning at the Vatican this Holy Week, more than a year after the COVID-19 outbreak first exploded in Italy.

How COVID is hitting Pope Francis and the Catholic Church spiritually, and financially this Holy Week
Pope Francis attends the Chrism Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, April 1, 2021 at the Vatican.

Vatican Pool/Getty


Especially painful for the pope during what’s normally the busiest week at the Vatican, is the absence of pilgrims.

Over the past year, diminishing donations and the closure of Vatican museums have left a hole that’s both spiritual, and financial, according to CBS News Vatican consultant Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo.

“In 2020, we had a $108 million shortfall – 25% less revenue,” said Figueiredo. “It’s led to even the cardinals having a cut in their salaries of 10%. There is real concern, because we have both the fall in numbers in Catholics — a lot of credibility for the church, because of the sexual abuse crisis — and now the pandemic. It’s like being in a boxing ring and not knowing where the next punch is going to come from.”

But the pandemic didn’t stop Francis from taking a daring trip to Iraq last month — the first ever for a pope. He prayed in churches that, only a handful of years ago, were ransacked by ISIS militants, and gathered with thousands of people in crowds like we haven’t seen in a year.


Pope Francis visits Iraq

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It was all made possible by COVID vaccines — for himself and his entire entourage.

This week, the Vatican is paying it forward, vaccinating 1,200 of the poor and homeless around St. Peter’s Square. They are some of the very few even permitted to be at the Vatican this Holy Week.

“He understands that not being able to go to his flock is going to have long-term consequences,” Figueiredo told CBS News. “Will they come back? I think that’s one of his big challenges.”

Another victim of COVID-19 has been Pope Francis’ tradition of washing the feet of the poor, which normally would have happened on Holy Thursday but was cancelled for the second year in a row. However, Vatican watchers say Francis is desperate to find some way to interact with the people, regardless, so we could be in for a surprise.