ROME — The Vatican has announced Pope Francis will livestream his Christmas liturgies this year without public participation due to concerns over the coronavirus.
In an October 22 letter to ambassadors to the Holy See, the Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, said that the pontiff’s Christmas ceremonies would take “a private form” this year without the presence of the faithful.
Pope Francis has drawn ongoing criticism for his reticence to wear a face mask in public, despite urging the faithful to obey all government regulations aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.
“I believe that if we all, as good citizens, comply with the prescriptions of the authorities, it will help to end this pandemic,” the pope told crowds gathered for his weekly general audience on October 14.
“Francis has faced sharp criticism even from his most ardent supporters and incredulousness from some within the Vatican for refusing to wear a mask,” Associated Press (AP) reported last week.
Along with other European nations, Italy has experienced a worrisome uptick in new cases of COVID-19, but the numbers are still significantly lower than they were last spring. Patients with the virus in intensive care units are currently fewer than a third of the number they were in late March and daily deaths at that time were six times higher than those of today.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has extended the country’s state of emergency until January 31, 2021, meaning that he will have enjoyed extraordinary powers to rule by independent decree for a full year. In recent days, Mr. Conte has imposed a 6:00pm curfew on bars and restaurants, closed gyms, pools, and cinemas, reduced the number of students allowed to attend school, and mandated outdoor mask wearing nationwide.
The Vatican has followed suit by ordering visitors and employees to wear masks indoors and outdoors and to observe social distancing.
According to the Daily Mail, a “wave” of anti-lockdown protests has been sweeping across Europe with “thousands of furious demonstrators” clashing with police in cities in Italy and Spain as they urge their governments to abandon new restrictions on their basic liberties.