Pope embarks on prayer 'marathon' against Covid
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The Argentinian pontiff gave the inaugural rosary prayer to kick off a series which will be streamed live each day this month at 1600 GMT from different Catholic shrines across the world.
They range from Fatima in Portugal and Lourdes in France to shrines in Poland, Nigeria, Cuba and South Korea as well as the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.
Francis, who said he was praying for "wounded humanity," will conclude the series at a Vatican Gardens chapel on May 31.
The choice of the rosary prayer comes with May traditionally being the month the Catholic Church dedicates to the Virgin Mary.
Those participating in the cycle of prayer are urged to pray for an end to the pandemic and for society to return to normal.
Francis lamented the "dramatic current situation, charged with suffering and anxiety," some 16 months after the virus first surfaced in China before swiftly spreading across the globe, killing more than three million to date and wreaking massive economic destruction.
The pope urged protection for those left bereaved after losing loved ones "buried sometimes in a manner which wounds the soul" given the restrictions of social distancing.
He hailed "the heroic fatigue" of doctors and nurses and other medical personnel putting their own lives on the line to aid those suffering.
The pontiff called on the Virgin Mary to "illuminate the spirits of men and women of science so they may find good solutions to defeat this virus" and "touch consciences so that the enormous sums used to develop and perfect" those solutions" allow the prevention of such catastrophes in future."