Pope Francis leads Midnight Mass at the Vatican

Pope Francis urges Christians to value the ‘little things in life’ as he leads Midnight Mass at the Vatican – while worshippers around the world gather for annual service

  • An estimated 2,000 members of the public and 200 religious figures attended mass at St Peter’s Basilica
  • Pope Francis called on the faithful to value the ‘little things in life’ and show solidarity with the poor
  • Worshippers were seen gathering for masses in cities across the US, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Palestine and Russia

Catholics gathered to celebrate Christmas Eve mass across the world, including in the Vatican City where Pope Francis called on the faithful to value the ‘little things in life’ and show solidarity with the poor.

An estimated 2,000 members of the public and 200 religious figures attended the mass at St Peter’s Basilica, wearing face masks and respecting social distancing as part of measures against the coronavirus, the Vatican’s press office said.

Those who had not managed to grab a ticket watched on huge screens outside the church.

A maskless Francis processed down the central aisle of the basilica as the Sistine Chapel choir sang Noel, kicking off the Vatican’s Christmas holiday that commemorates the birth of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem. 

Across the world, worshippers were also seen gathering for annual masses in cities in the US, in Sri Lanka, Iraq, Palestine and Russia.

The Vatican went ahead with its service despite the resurgence in Covid-19 cases that has prompted a new vaccine mandate for Vatican employees.

Italy reported a further 50,599 new cases on Friday, a second successive daily record, up on Thursday’s total of 44,595. 

Another 141 people died, bringing Italy’s official death toll to 136,386.

Pope Francis kisses a statue of Baby Jesus as he celebrates Christmas Eve Mass, at St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican, in front of approximately 2,000 people

Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Christmas Eve Holy Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. During the service, he called on the faithful to value the ‘little things in life’ and show solidarity with the poor

An estimated 2,000 members of the public and 200 religious figures attended the mass at St Peter’s Basilica, wearing face masks and respecting social distancing as part of measures against the coronavirus

People visit Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, in the Manhattan borough of New York, on Christmas Eve, as the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread

And in Sri Lanka, Christian devotees take communion during a Christmas mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka in Ragama

The midnight mass at the Vatican actually began at 7.30pm, a nod to the 85-year-old Pope’s endurance and a hold-over from last year, when the service had to end before Italy’s nationwide Covid-19 curfew.

No curfew is in place this year, but cases this week have surged even beyond 2020 levels.

Francis, in his homily, urged the faithful to focus on the ‘littleness’ of Jesus, and remember that he came into the world poor, without even a proper crib.

‘That is where God is, in littleness,’ Francis said.

‘This is the message: God does not rise up in grandeur, but lowers himself into littleness.

‘Littleness is the path that he chose to draw near to us, to touch our hearts, to save us and to bring us back to what really matters.’ 

The Argentinian pontiff called for people to seek out ‘littleness’ – in ‘our daily lives, the things we do each day at home, in our families, at school and in the workplace’.

‘Jesus asks us to rediscover and value the little things in life’, he said.

A Midnight Mass service takes place at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Christmas Eve

Palestinian Christians wait to pray at the midnight Christmas Eve mass out side the Deir Al Latin Holy Family Catholic Church in Gaza City

A worshipper reaches out to receive a blessing during the Christmas eve mass at the Syriac Orthodox Church of Um al-Noor in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq

Worshippers wearing face masks and keeping social distance listen to the first Christmas Mass conducted at the newly opened Our Lady of Arabia Cathedral, in Awali, Bahrain

Members of the Christian minority community attend a Christmas mass at St. Andrew’s Church in Karachi, Pakistan

A Catholic devotee touches a baby Jesus doll at the Nativity scene during the Christmas Eve mass at the Holy Redeemer Church in Bangkok

A female choir member looks on during the Christmas eve mass at the Syriac Orthodox Church of Um al-Noor in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq

Francis, formerly the Archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Mario Bergoglio, called for more solidarity with those living in poverty.

‘On this night of love, may we have only one fear: that of offending God’s love, hurting him by despising the poor with our indifference,’ he said.

It was the second such Christmas Eve mass during the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, barely 200 people – mostly Vatican employees – were able to attend. 

Friday night’s mass came after the Vatican secretary of state on Thursday imposed a new vaccine mandate on all Vatican staff, extending it to all employees except those who have recovered from coronavirus.

Previously, only employees who dealt with the public directly had to be vaccinated, such as staff at the Vatican Museums and the Swiss Guards, while others could access their offices with regular testing.

The mandate does not apply to the faithful attending mass, but they are required to wear masks.

Priests, all wearing masks and socially distance from one another, wait for Pope Francis to celebrate Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican

Young altar servers light up their candles during the Christmas eve mass at the Syriac Orthodox Church of Um al-Noor in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq

Members of the Christian minority community attend a Christmas mass at St. Andrew’s Church in Karachi, Pakistan

An Iraqi Christian prays during Christmas Eve Mass in St. Teresa’s Church ahead of Christmas celebrations, in Basra, Iraq

A woman reads from a prayer book while holding a candle during the Christmas eve mass at the Syriac Orthodox Church of Um al-Noor in Arbil

Christian devotees take communion during a Christmas mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka in Ragama, Sri Lanka

The faithful attending Friday’s mass, and the priests, bishops and cardinals concelebrating it, all wore masks.

Francis, who is missing part of one lung and had intestinal surgery in July, has largely eschewed masks, even when greeting prelates and the general public.

Francis is believed to have received the third booster shot, as has emeritus Pope Benedict XVI.

Francis has previously said vaccination is an ‘act of love’ and he has called for wealthier countries to provide the shots to the developing world. 

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