Pope celebrates Christmas eve mass as virus emerges in Italy
ROME (AP) – Pope Francis celebrated Christmas Eve Mass in front of around 1,500 people in St. Peter’s Basilica on Friday, continuing the service despite the resurgence of COVID-19 cases that prompted a new vaccine mandate for Vatican employees.
An unmasked Francis walked down the central aisle of the basilica as the Sistine Chapel choir sang âChristmas,â marking the start of the Vatican Christmas vacation that commemorates the birth of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem.
In his homily, Francis urged the faithful to focus on the âlittlenessâ of Jesus and to remember that he came into the world poor, without even a real manger.
âThis is where God is, in littleness,â Francis said. âHere is the message: God does not rise in greatness, but humbles himself in smallness. Smallness is the path he chose to draw closer to us, touch our hearts, save us and bring us back to what really matters.
The ‘midnight mass’ actually started at 7:30 p.m., a nod to the endurance of the 85-year-old Pope and a delay from last year, when the service was due to end before the national COVID curfew. -19 in Italy.
No curfew is in place this year, but cases this week have even surpassed 2020 levels. For the second day in a row, Italy on Friday set a new daily pandemic record with 50,599 new cases. Another 141 people died, bringing the official death toll in Italy to 136,386.
The Vatican Secretary of State on Thursday imposed a new vaccination mandate on all Vatican staff, extending it to all employees except those who have recovered from the coronavirus. Previously, only employees who dealt directly with the public had to be vaccinated, such as staff at the Vatican Museums and the Swiss Guards, while others could access their offices with regular testing.
The mandate does not apply to the faithful attending Mass, but they are required to wear masks. The faithful attending Friday mass, and the priests, bishops and cardinals concelebrating it, all wore masks. Francis, who is missing part of a lung and had bowel surgery in July, largely avoided masks, even when greeting prelates and the general public.
Francis would have received the third reminder, just like Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Francis said vaccination is an “act of love” and called on the richest countries to provide vaccines to the developing world.
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