South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Pope Francis shake hands at the Vatican during their meeting in October, 2018. (Cheong Wa Dae)
VATICAN CITY (AFP) -- Pope Francis said on Sunday the worst of the coronavirus crisis was over in Italy, addressing the faithful for the first time in Saint Peter's Square since the health emergency began.
The pontiff's address came a day after the Vatican said there were no more cases of COVID-19 within its population.
"Your presence in the square is a sign that in Italy the acute phase of the epidemic is over," Francis told those assembled for his weekly Angelus prayer.
"But be careful... do not celebrate victory too soon," he added, warning of the need to continue following social distancing rules.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement late Saturday that the last person found to have been infected with the coronavirus in recent weeks had tested negative.
"Today there are no more cases of coronavirus among employees of the Vatican," or within Vatican City, he said.
Twelve people in total within the Vatican had been infected by the virus.
The Argentine pope expressed his sympathy for those in some Latin American countries like Brazil and Peru, which have been hit hard by the coronavirus. Unfortunately in other countries -- I am thinking of some of them -- the virus continues to claim many victims," he said.
"Last Friday, in one country, one person died every minute! Terrible. I wish to express my closeness to those populations, to the sick and their families, and to all those who care for them," he said.
During Italy's two-month lockdown which began in March, Francis continued to address the faithful via videoconference from within a chapel within his Vatican residence.
The COVID-19 epidemic has killed nearly 34,000 people in Italy, but experts believe it has now been mostly been controlled. (AFP)