For the first time since the coronavirus lockdown began, Pope Francis held a public audience on Wednesday to call for a universal day of prayer on Sept. 4 in solidarity with the victims of the massive explosion in Lebanon.

According to a report, the members of the public who attended Wednesday's audience wore face masks but the papal entourage and the Pope himself did not wear any.

Although previous audiences were normally held in the much larger St. Peter's Square, the said audience had been held in the San Damaso courtyard of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace where about 500 faithful comprising of both devoted Catholics and simple tourists gathered to see the pope.

The said audience had been an opportunity for the pope to retain the public contact after months of restrictions and years dimmed by crises and scandals - some of which had been related to the controversial state of the Vatican's finances.

Temperatures were checked and social distancing protocols had been observed by which visitors were required to sit pre-distanced seats.

He gave blessings to children who attended the audience as well as those who remained to be sick or disabled. As he walked past through guests and chatted with them from a distance, the pope expressed his delight and called the audience a "beautiful" encounter. It was clear that he had missed the experience of seeing the public as the last audience had long been held in March.

He had been holding his weekly audiences virtually from the official papal library due to the restrictions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. Followers were then able to attend the online audiences over television or the internet.

Georges Breidi, a Lebanese priest, gave a Lebanese flag to the pope. Pope Francis held the flag in his hands, kissed it and bowed his head in prayer.

Afterwards, he invited the rest of the audience to join him and many others who will be praying for the lives lost during the deadly blast in Beirut - an incident which is still filled with unanswered questions and is still under investigation.

"I invite everyone to join in a universal day of prayer and fasting for Lebanon, on 4 September. I also invite our brothers and sisters of other religious confessions to join in this initiative in whatever way they deem best," the pope said as he campaigns for peace for those who are gravely affected in Lebanon.

He announced that he will be sending Cardinal Pietro Parolin to represent him on Sept. 4, and urged nations, politicians and religious leaders to sincerely commit to rebuilding the country and aiding its people without involving regional tensions.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis (C) waves to a crowd of faithfuls from the popemobile, as he arrives at the National Shrine of Maipu in Santiago to meet with youths, on January 17, 2018. Pope Francis denounced the use of violence in the struggle for indigenous rights Wednesday, celebrating mass in a restive region of Chile, before heading back to Santiago to meet with young faithfuls. Photo: EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images

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