ROME — Italians sitting down for dinner and turning on the evening news were greeted by Pope Francis.

RAI state TV broadcast a recorded message from the pope, who said: “Let us pray to the Lord for all those who are tried in Italy and in the world” by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This evening I have the possibility to enter your homes” and asked viewers’ permission to chat with them a little,” the pontiff said.

Francis said he was thinking of the lively children forced with the rest of their families to stay home during government-ordered lockdowns aimed at containing the spread of coronavirus infections. He said “in his heart” he is holding those with family members sick with COVID-19 or who had died.

“I cannot forget those who are sick with coronavirus, people who are in hospital. I am aware of the generosity of those who put themselves at risk for the treatment of this pandemic or to guarantee the essential services to society,” the pope said.

“So many heroes, every day, at every hour! I also remember how many are in financial straits and are worried about work and the future. A thought also goes out to prison inmates, whose pain is compounded by fear of the epidemic, for themselves and their loved ones; I think of the homeless, who do not have a home to protect them,” he continued.

Francis acknowledged the crisis “is a difficult time for everyone,” and said he wished to express his closeness and affection to everyone.

“Let us try, if we can, to make the best use of this time: let us be generous; let us help those in need in our neighborhood; let us look out for the loneliest people, perhaps by telephone or social networks; let us pray to the Lord for those who are in difficulty in Italy and in the world. Even if we are isolated, thought and spirit can go far with the creativity of love. This is what we need today: the creativity of love,” the pope said.

Francis will celebrate solemn Holy Week ceremonies without the public, starting with Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Crux staff contributed to this report.