ROME – While praying for authorities forced to take unpopular decisions to combat the coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis Thursday urged people not to be so distracted by those measures they forget the faces of real suffering, including hungry children and forced migrants fleeing famine and war.

“Maybe these days, those of us here in Rome are preoccupied … ‘It seems like the stores are closed, but I need to go to buy this thing,’ or, ‘It seems like I can’t take a walk every day,’ or this other thing,” the pope said during his morning Mass at the Santa Marta residence on Vatican grounds where he resides.

“We’re preoccupied for our own things, and we forget the children who are hungry, we forget the poor people at the borders who are seeking freedom, these forced migrants fleeing hunger and war who find only walls – walls made of iron, of barbed wire, but walls that don’t let them pass,” Francis said.

“We know this happens, but it doesn’t pass [to our hearts]. We live in indifference,” the pope said. “It’s our drama, to be well-informed but not to feel the reality of the other. This is the abyss of indifference.”

Francis’s words came on the same day that sweeping new restrictions announced by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte took effect, including the closure of all stores with the exception of grocery stores, pharmacies, tobacco shops and newsstands until March 25, and strict new limits on movements aside from reasons of work.

Wednesday evening, the Italian health ministry announced that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country has risen to 12,464, remaining the second highest in the world outside China, with the number of deaths at 827 and recoveries at 1,045.

“I’ve made a pact with my conscience,” Conte said in a video message to the country Wednesday evening.

“In the first place is, and always will be, the health of the Italian people,” he said.

“If we’re to exit from this emergency quickly, it will require responsibility from each of us,” Conte told the nation. “We’re part of the same community, and each of us benefits from our own sacrifices and those of others.”

“Let’s keep our distance now, we can hug each other when it’s over,” Conte said. “Together, we can do it.”

The pope also spoke one day after U.S. President Donald Trump announced the suspension of all flights to and from Europe for 30 days, beginning at midnight on Friday.

In his remarks Thursday morning, Francis clearly signaled sympathy for government leaders forced to impose similar limits.

“We continue to pray together in this moment of pandemic for the sick, their relatives, for parents whose children are at home. Above all, I want to ask you to pray for the authorities,” the pontiff said.

“They have to make decisions, and many times to decide on measures that people don’t like, but it’s for our good. Many times the authorities feel alone, misunderstood,” he said. “Let’s pray for our governors, who have to take decisions on these measures, that they feel accompanied by the prayers of the people.”

The pope’s use of the word “pandemic” came the day after the World Health Organization officially classified COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, as a pandemic. It’s the first time since the 2009 Swine Flu that the WHO has recognized an outbreak as a pandemic, as the coronavirus has now reached 114 nations and killed more than 4,000 people.

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