Italy’s lockdown forces changes to Pope’s Christmas events

Standing in the window of the library of the Apostolic Palace overlooking an empty St. Peter's Square, March 29, 2020, Pope Francis blesses the city of Rome, which was under lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Italy's new COVID-19 restrictions over the holidays have forced some changes to Pope Francis' Christmas schedule.  (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – With Italy returning to a Covid-19 lockdown over the Christmas holidays, the Vatican has announced that most of Pope Francis’ usual appointments will be livestreamed with few or no members of the public present.

The Pope’s midday blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) on December 25 has been moved to the Hall of Blessings above the atrium of St Peter’s Basilica with no members of the public present.

Usually, the Pope delivers the blessing from the central balcony of the basilica, overlooking St Peter’s Square packed with people. This year, however, it will resemble what happened at Easter when Italy was in its first lockdown, and St Peter’s Square was closed to the public.

About 100 faithful will be present for the Pope’s Christmas “Mass during the Night” on December 24. The Vatican already had announced that the Mass was moved to 7:30pm local time so that the people attending could return home before Italy’s 10pm curfew, one of the country’s measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

To prevent large gatherings and packed public transportation over the holidays, the Italian government announced on December 18 a new lockdown for December 24-27, January 1-3 and January 5-6. Except for essential workers or for medical visits, people may leave their homes only once on each of those days. They can visit a relative or friend living in the same region of the country, but no one may have more than two guests over the age of 14 in their homes each day, and a curfew is in force from 10pm to 5am.

In addition to the Pope’s Mass on Christmas Eve and his blessing and message on Christmas Day, Pope Francis has other events impacted by the restrictions. He recites the Angelus prayer, usually with people in St Peter’s Square on Sundays and feast days. He will do so livestreamed from the library of the Apostolic Palace December 26 and 27 and January 1, 3 and 6, the Vatican said.

Photo: Standing in the window of the library of the Apostolic Palace overlooking an empty St Peter’s Square, March 29, 2020, Pope Francis blesses the city of Rome, which was under lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (CNS Photo)

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