Pope Francis on Saturday did not deliver his message before thousands of pilgrims, as in the past, but instead offered it from the serene setting of a Vatican library due to COVID-19 precautions
The Vatican moved the location for Saturday’s noon-time prayer to the library in the Apostolic Palace.
Originally, the head of the Catholic Church had planned to pray for the faithful in St. Peter’s Square, as is customary.
Outside the Vatican in Italy, as a whole, strict curfew restrictions apply over the Christmas holidays until the beginning of January, with the exception of four days — Dec. 28 to Dec.30 and Jan. 4.
People are only supposed to leave their homes during this time to go to work, to the doctor’s place, shopping, or to exercise on their own; making it difficult for believers to access St. Peter’s Square.
Pope Francis during the prayer underscored the importance of forgiveness and prayed for Christians facing persecution for their faith at the traditional Angelus prayer on Saturday.
“Today, let us pray for those suffering persecution because of the name of Jesus. They are many, unfortunately,” he said.
The ceremony takes place on the day Catholics commemorate Saint Stephen.
According to the Biblical accounts, the preacher was accused of blasphemy and became the first Christian martyr when he was stoned to death at the gates of Jerusalem.
In spite of the false accusations and brutal stoning, Stephen forgave his murderers, Pope Francis noted.
“Today’s faithful should also pray for people who have made a mistake and not speak ill of them,” the 84-year-old pontiff said.
And if there are arguments at home, he said, people should try to mend fences and not necessarily prove they are right.
Due to the COVID-19 precautions, Francis also had to give his “Urbi et Orbi” blessing at a smaller venue on Friday.
The Christmas Mass on Thursday also took place with a limited number of participants.