27 January 2022,   16:14
Pope Francis celebrates socially-distanced Christmas Eve Mass as pandemic puts damper on holiday

To a world upended by the coronavirus, Pope Francis offered a timeless message during a Christmas Eve Mass that was itself shaped by the ongoing pandemic.

The Mass was celebrated in a smaller rear section of St. Peter’s Basilica, and only 100 or so people were present, Reuters reported. In normal times without a pandemic, the Mass is celebrated in the main part of the basilica before some 10,000 people.

All in attendance wore masks except for the pontiff and a small choir. Those in the pews sat at a distance from one another.

The Mass began two hours earlier than is traditional, so that those attending could make it home by the 10 p.m. curfew in place as part of Italy’s measures to stem the pandemic. The service was streamed live on the Vatican’s YouTube channel.

Italy went into a modified lockdown on Thursday, the first of three such periods between Christmas Eve and Jan. 6, following a steep increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. On Wednesday, Italy reported 13,908 new confirmed cases and 553 deaths.