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Pope Francis to celebrate pandemic Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica

Vatican City – Pope Francis was due on Thursday to celebrate a somber pandemic-era Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, with a restricted audience and other anti-coronavirus precautions.

In the midst of coronavirus restrictions, the pope urged people to think of those who have less this Christmas.
In the midst of coronavirus restrictions, the pope urged people to think of those who have less this Christmas.  © imago images / Independent Photo Agency Int.

The service was due to take place two hours earlier than normal, at 7:30 PM, so that it could finish before Italian curfew rules kick in at 10:00 PM.

A far smaller than usual number of members of the clergy and the public was due to take part in an event usually attended by hundreds of people.

Before the Mass, the pope sent messages to the people of Lebanon and to the leaders of South Sudan, wishing both troubled countries peace and stability, and reaffirming his desire to visit them.

This year, Lebanon was shaken by a massive blast in its capital Beirut, which killed more than 180 people and inflamed a pre-existing economic and coronavirus-related health crisis.

Meanwhile, South Sudan is struggling to consolidate a national unity government deal signed in February, as violence persists between ethnic groups.

The Vatican also said Francis would not address crowds in St. Peter's Square on Christmas Day with the "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and to the world) blessings from the central balcony of the basilica.

The blessings will instead be imparted from inside the Apostolic Palace, and web-streamed, it said. The same applies to Angelus messages scheduled for December 26 and 27 and January 1, 3, and 6.

The Vatican is doing its best to protect the 84-year-old pontiff from infection risks, especially after two cardinals close to him tested positive for the coronavirus in the last few days.

On Sunday, Francis told the faithful they should not be "complaining about what we cannot do due to the pandemic," but rather think about those "who have less."

"[Let us not have] the umpteenth gift for ourselves and our friends, but for a person in need whom no-one thinks of,” he said, lamenting how consumerism "has stolen Christmas."

Cover photo: imago images / Independent Photo Agency Int.

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