Vatican City: Pope Francis on Saturday urged politicians to divert funds spent on weapons to research to prevent another pandemic, as he led the largest gathering in the Vatican in nearly three months.
Francis presided at an outdoor prayer service with about 130 people, including many directly affected by the pandemic.
They prayed the rosary in the Vatican gardens as tens of thousands of people in about 50 Catholic shrines around the world joined in. A large screen in the gardens showed video links with about 25 locations.
Among those who prayed were Italian doctors, nurses, and ambulance drivers, as well as people who had recovered from coronavirus or lost family members. More than 33,000 have died in Italy.
Most wore masks except for when they led prayers at the microphone. Francis, 83, sat several metres away from most people during most of the service and did not wear a mask.
In his closing prayer, Francis said national leaders should take a far-sighted attitude, helping the most needy now and putting in place long-term economic and social solutions.
He prayed that the Madonna would "touch (leaders') consciences so that enormous sums spent to possess more armaments and to perfect them be instead destined to the promotion of sufficient research to prevent such catastrophes in the future".
Earlier this month, Francis called for international scientific cooperation to develop a vaccine and said any successful one should be shared globally.
For nearly three months, Francis has led televised Masses, general audiences and Sunday addresses from inside the Vatican with no public.
St. Peter's Basilica and St. Peter's Square were fully reopened on May 18 as Italy entered the second phase of easing restrictions.
On Sunday, Francis will say a Mass with only about 50 people inside the basilica but will later deliver his Sunday message from his window overlooking the square for the first time since early March.