Vatican: Pope moves Christmas blessing indoors due to covid-19

Pope will not read Urbi et Orbi message from the balcony of St Peter's this year.

Pope Francis will deliver his traditional Christmas message indoors this year instead of from the outdoor central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica, due to Italy's covid-19 restrictions, the Vatican press office has announced.

The pontiff will impart his Urbi et Orbi (To the City and The World) blessing and message from inside the Hall of Blessings in the Apostolic Palace at midday on 25 December.

The Angelus - which the pope had been scheduled to pray from a window of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace overlooking Piazza S. Pietro on five dates between 26 December and 6 January - will now take place in the library.

The pope's modified programme will see papal events live streamed and broadcast on television, and is designed to stop crowds gathering in St Peter's Square during the festive period.

The Vatican's Christmas Eve 'Midnight Mass' on 24 December has already been brought forward by two hours, to 19.30, to allow the faithful to get home before Italy’s 22.00 curfew.

The number of people attending the papal ceremonies this Christmas will be "very limited," in keeping with health safety measures which include physical distancing and face masks, the Vatican said.

The latest change to the Holy See's Christmas programme comes as the Vatican confirmed that two cardinals close to the pontiff have tested positive for covid-19.

They are 57-year-old Polish cardinal Konrad Krajewski, who is in charge of the pope’s charities and has been hospitalised for treatment of pneumonia; and 78-year-old Italian cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, the governor of Vatican City, who is believed to be in self-isolation at his Vatican home.

The news has raised fresh concerns for Pope Francis, who turned 84 last week and had part of one lung removed when in his 20s.

Photo credit: Riccardo De Luca - Update / Shutterstock.com.