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Pope celebrates Christmas Eve Mass as virus surges in Italy

Pope celebrates Christmas Eve Mass as virus surges in Italy

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis celebrated Christmas Eve Mass earlier than an estimated 2,000 individuals in St. Peter’s Basilica on Friday, going forward with the service regardless of the resurgence in COVID-19 circumstances that has prompted a brand new vaccine mandate for Vatican workers.

A maskless Francis processed down the central aisle because the Sistine Chapel choir sang “Noel,” kicking off the Vatican’s Christmas vacation that commemorates the delivery of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem. He remained maskless all through the service.

In his homily, Francis urged the devoted to give attention to the “littleness” of Jesus, and do not forget that he got here into the world poor, with out even a correct crib.

“That’s the place God is, in littleness,” Francis mentioned. “That is the message: God doesn’t stand up in grandeur, however lowers himself into littleness. Littleness is the trail that he selected to attract close to to us, to the touch our hearts, to avoid wasting us and to convey us again to what actually issues.”

Attendance on Friday was restricted to about 2,000 individuals, way over the 200 allowed in 2020 when Italy was in a full Christmas lockdown. However the quantity is a fraction of the capability of St. Peter’s, which might seat as much as 20,000 and in pre-pandemic occasions can be packed for one of the crucial standard Vatican liturgies of the yr.

The “Midnight Mass” truly started at 7:30 p.m., a nod to the 85-year-old pope’s endurance and a hold-over from final yr, when the service needed to finish earlier than Italy’s nationwide COVID-19 curfew.

No curfew is in place this yr, however circumstances this week have surged even past 2020 ranges. For the second day in a row, Italy on Friday set a brand new pandemic day by day report with 50,599 new circumstances. One other 141 individuals died, bringing Italy’s official demise toll to 136,386.

With the arrival of the omicrom variant in Italy, the Vatican secretary of state on Thursday imposed a brand new vaccine mandate on all Vatican workers, extending it to all workers besides those that have recovered from the coronavirus. Beforehand, solely workers who handled the general public immediately needed to be vaccinated, corresponding to workers on the Vatican Museums and the Swiss Guards, whereas others might entry their places of work with common testing.

The mandate doesn’t apply to the devoted attending Mass, however they’re required to put on masks. These attending Friday’s Mass, and the monks, bishops and cardinals concelebrating it, all wore masks. Francis, who’s lacking a part of one lung and had intestinal surgical procedure in July, has largely eschewed masks, even when greeting prelates and most of the people.

“I’m not nervous as a result of to start with I’ve a masks on, and I’ve had my third dose so I really feel relaxed,” mentioned Franco Pasquali, a Rome resident attending the service. “The issue is those that don’t vaccinate, that’s all.”

Francis is believed to have obtained the third booster shot, as has emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. Francis has mentioned vaccination is an “act of affection” and he has known as for wealthier international locations to offer the photographs to the creating world.

Amongst these attending the Mass was Melissa Helland, an American vacationer visiting Rome together with her household.

“That is the primary time within the final two years that we’ve been capable of collect each as a household and to attend Mass due to the pandemic, so we’re very excited and grateful,” she mentioned earlier than the service started.

Francesco Sportelli and Luigi Navarro contributed from Vatican Metropolis.

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