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Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti leads prayer to Mary at shrine near Vatican

An empty St. Peter's Square is seen at the Vatican March 12, 2020. Acknowledging how difficult it can be to adapt to restrictive measures aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, Pope Francis told people watching his morning Mass March 12 that it was for "our own good." (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

ROME — Like bishops in the United States and Canada, the bishops of Italy will begin the Marian month of May consecrating their nation to the care of Mary with special prayers for her intercession in ending the coronavirus pandemic.

Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia-Citta della Pieve, president of the Italian bishops’ conference, announced the special consecration April 20, saying it was in response to hundreds of requests from Italian faithful.

The bishops will “entrust the entire country to the protection of the Mother of God as a sign of salvation and hope,” the bishops’ conference said. “It will do so at 9 p.m. May 1 with a moment of prayer in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Fountain near Caravaggio,” a town in the hard-hit province of Bergamo.

“The choice of the date and the place is extremely symbolic,” the bishops’ statement said.

“May is, in fact, the month traditionally dedicated to Mary, a time marked by praying the rosary, pilgrimages to shrines and by the need to turn to Mary with special prayers of intercession,” it said. “Beginning this month with an act of consecration to Mary in the current situation acquires a very special meaning for all of Italy.”

The place, Caravaggio, the statement added, symbolizes “the suffering and pain experienced in a land harshly tried by the health emergency.”

During the prayer service May 1, the bishops will entrust to Mary the sick, doctors and other health care workers, families and the deceased.

Since May 1 is the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, the bishops will include special prayers for all workers, “aware of the worry and fear” many of them are experiencing.