ROME – In a recent interview Vatican Secretary of State Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin said the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity to practice solidarity with others, particularly developing nations that lack the medical and social resources to fight a pandemic.

With infection rates picking up globally, “the virus is spreading like wildfire,” Parolin said in an interview with Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli, editorial director for Vatican Media, published April 2.

Parolin praised efforts being made by various nations to tackle the crisis and stop the spread of the virus, but said he is worried “about the situation in the less developed countries.”

“There, health care facilities are not able to ensure necessary and adequate care for the population in the event of a more widespread diffusion of the Covid-19 virus,” he said, insisting that the Holy See’s task in the outbreak “is to consider the entire world,” particularly impoverished nations or those at war, where the population is most vulnerable.

The Vatican “seeks not to forget those who are farthest away, those who suffer the most, those who perhaps struggle to gain the attention of the international media,” he said, insisting that is not a new concern brought on by the current pandemic, but famine, epidemics and conflict have long been a part of the human story.

“There is a real need to pray and to commit ourselves, all of us, so that international solidarity never fails. Despite the emergency, despite the fear, now is not the time to shut ourselves off from others,” he said.

Problems many people, particularly in the west, thought were far away “have knocked on our doors,” he said, insisting that COVID-19 “is an opportunity to feel more united and to nurture the spirit of solidarity and sharing among all countries, among all peoples, among all men and women in the world.”

“Challenges and profound changes will come about as a result of this crisis,” he said, stressing that “Civil authorities need to exercise their responsibility beyond the self-centeredness of their own personal, group, and national interests. They need to provide for the common good, wisely and responsibly, according to the values of freedom and justice.”

As of Thursday, the United States still held the lead in terms of the number of reported coronavirus cases, with 245,473, including the more than 6,000 deaths and 9,000 recoveries, according to Johns Hopkins.

Italy still has recorded the most deaths in the world wide pandemic — 13,915 deaths out of 115,242 cases – as of Thursday. However, the number of reported cases is increasing in other areas. Africa is currently seeing a spike in cases, most of which are in South Africa, which has a total of 1,462 cases and five deaths.

In his interview, Parolin also touched on other hot-button issues such as church closures due to the coronavirus, the health of Holy See employees and how the Vatican will celebrate Holy Week and Easter.

So far seven employees of the Holy See, including an official who lives at the same residence as Pope Francis, have tested positive for COVID-19, and are in quarantine.

Parolin stressed that of the infected, “all of them have passed the critical phase and are now improving,” and the Holy See is “daily and hourly monitoring the situation, thanks to the dedication of our doctors and nurses.”

He noted that it will not be possible to have pilgrims participate in the Vatican’s Holy Week and Easter liturgies, but insisted the decision was “studied” and ultimately taken to avoid the spread of the virus. The liturgies, he said, will be celebrated “in full respect of the regulations to avoid infection, we will try to celebrate the great Rites of the Easter Triduum in order to accompany all those who, unfortunately, will not be able to go to church.”

On the controversial decision of the Italian bishops to suspend public Masses and funerals – weddings and baptisms are still allowed on a small, private scale – as well as the decision to close some churches, Parolin insisted that suspending Masses “was necessary to avoid large gatherings.”

“However, in almost every city, churches remain open. I hope those that may have been closed will reopen as soon as possible,” he said, adding that “It is nice to think that the doors to God’s house remain open, just as the doors of our houses remain open, even though we are strongly encouraged not to go out except for essential reasons.”

“The family is a domestic church,” he said, and encouraged Catholics to participate in Holy Week and Easter liturgies online. He said he shares the “sorrow” of those who are unable to receive the sacraments but urged them to make an act of spiritual communion, and to read more scripture.

“With His Word, God has filled the void that frightens us in these hours. God communicated Himself in Jesus, the complete and definitive Word. We must not simply fill time, but fill ourselves with the Word,” he said.

In terms of lessons to be learned from the pandemic, Parolin said the crisis is “bound to have significant consequences on our lives.”

With the virus mankind is confronted with its own vulnerability, realizing that, “We are not absolute masters,” but “poor creatures” susceptible to an “invisible enemy,” he said, but insisted that on the other hand, the crisis is also helping people to rediscover “what really matters.”

“We are offered the possibility of rediscovering the value of family, friendship, interpersonal relationships, relationships that we normally neglect, solidarity, generosity, sharing, closeness in the concreteness of small things,” he said, calling it an “opportune moment to return to God with all our hearts.”

Parolin praised the efforts priests and other Church officials are making to be close to their people despite the forced distance, and said he was also happy to hear of the “creative ways” people are expressing themselves during the lockdown, including neighborhood “flash mobs” with singing and music.

“I would like this to happen in some way in parishes too,” he said, suggesting that churches all ring their bells for one minute at the same time every day, around noon, so that the sound “might be a call to pray together, even given the physical distance.”

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen