Caution, cancellations mark Ash Wednesday in time of virus

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Pope Francis reads his message during the weekly general audience at the Vatican, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

VATICAN CITY (AP) – The Vatican is going ahead with plans for Pope Francis to celebrate the Ash Wednesday ritual that kicks off the Catholic Church’s Lenten season despite concerns about the coronavirus.

At the Vatican, Francis held his general audience as usual in St. Peter’s Square and sent his prayers to victims of the virus and the medical personnel treating them.

A handful of the thousands of people gathered wore face masks to protect against the virus. But elsewhere in Italy Masses were canceled over fears of contagion and other Catholic countries took precautions.

In the Philippines – Asia’s only majority Roman Catholic country – priests sprinkled ashes on the heads of the faithful to avoid physical contact.

(Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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