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A student wearing a protective mask and maintaining social distancing with other students is pictured taking her final exams in late June at J.F. Kennedy High School in Rome during the COVID-19 pandemic. (CNS/Yara Nardi, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In a letter to people participating in a virtual Marian pilgrimage, Pope Francis offered words of encouragement to families struggling amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pope’s message, which was signed on his behalf by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, was sent to Bishop Stefano Russo, secretary general of the Italian bishops’ conference, and to participants in the 13th Annual National Pilgrimage for Families to Pompei and Loreto.

The Vatican published the message Sept. 13.

In it, Cardinal Parolin conveyed the pope’s gratitude to the promoters of the pilgrimage for organizing the event “in this time in which families are suffering particularly from the hardships due to the pandemic,” and he encouraged them to “draw hope and strength from prayer and fraternal communion in order to move forward.”

Around the world, including in Italy, children and teens were returning to school for the first time in months.

An estimated 5.6 million Italian students returned to classrooms Sept. 14 amid questions over whether there were enough teachers, sufficient desks and face masks to keep everyone safe.

 

Acknowledging the challenges facing students today, the pope expressed his hope that the “reopening of the school year will be lived by all with a great sense of responsibility.”

He also repeated his call for “a renewed educational pact” that places first and foremost “the healthy growth” of young people, which “is a condition for a peaceful and prosperous future” for all.

Concluding the letter, Cardinal Parolin said Pope Francis was praying for families in Italy, Europe and around the world so that they “may continue to form that great river that spreads life, faith, hope and love in God’s people and in all of society.”

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