ROME – Pope Francis has endorsed an appeal issued by U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, calling Sunday for a global ceasefire to armed conflicts amid the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, allowing humanitarian aid to reach those most vulnerable to infection.

In his March 23 appeal, Guterres called for the ceasefire, stressing that “the fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war.”

“That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives,” he said, insisting that ceasefires would allow aid workers to reach people most vulnerable to the spread of the coronavirus.

Pope Francis echoed that call in his March 29 Angelus address, saying he welcomes the appeal and issuing an invitation for leaders everywhere “to follow-up by stopping all forms of war hostility.”

Noting that the coronavirus “knows no borders,” he urged leaders to allow “the creation of corridors for humanitarian aid, the openness to diplomacy and attention to those who find themselves in situations of great vulnerability.”

In his statement, Guterres said that it’s women, children, the disabled, marginalized, displaced and refugees who often suffer the most during war and conflict, he said these same groups are those most at risk of suffering “devastating losses” from COVID-19.

He also stressed that healthcare systems in many countries marred by war and violent conflict are at the point of collapse, and the few workers who remain are often targets.

Urging political leaders to “silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes,” Guterres said this is necessary in order to “help create corridors for life-saving aid. To open precious windows for diplomacy. To bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.”

“End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world,” he said, adding that this starts “by stopping the fighting everywhere. Now. That is what our human family needs, now more than ever.”

As coronavirus numbers continue to rise globally, the United States has taken the lead for the total number of reported cases, arriving at 124,686 as of Saturday.

Italy still holds the lead for fatalities. On Saturday, the country breached the 10,000 mark for coronavirus deaths, reporting 10,023, with a staggering increase of 889 in just one day, and 962 the day prior. Italy is also rapidly approaching the threshold of 100,000 cases, reporting a total of 92,472 so far, including the deceased, the 12,384 who have recovered, and those still receiving treatment.

Although the number of infections is far lower in conflict areas in Africa and the Middle East, leaders in these regions are bracing for a spike in cases. Yemen itself, although it has no reported cases yet, has already implemented a ceasefire in its long civil war to allow humanitarian aid to reach vulnerable areas and doctors to prepare for a possible coronavirus outbreak.

In his Sunday address, which was livestreamed due to quarantine restrictions, Pope Francis said a joint commitment against the COVID-19 pandemic allows everyone the opportunity “to recognize our need to strengthen fraternal bonds as members of the one human family.”

“In particular, it can arouse a renewed commitment to overcoming rivalries among leaders of nations and other stakeholders,” he said, stressing that, “Conflicts are not resolved through war! It is necessary to overcome antagonism and contrast through dialogue and a constructive search for peace.”

Francis also prayed for all those living in group settings, such as rest houses and barracks during the outbreak, making them more susceptible to risk, as well as those in prison, particularly prisons that are overcrowded.

Warning that this could “become a tragedy” should an outbreak of the virus happen in these places, the pope asked relevant authorities to “to be sensitive to this problem and to take the necessary measures to avoid future tragedies.”

As he has done since he began livestreaming his weekly audiences and speeches, Pope Francis went to the window where he usually leads the Angelus, waving to an empty square below.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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