Pope Francis today prayed for an end of the coronavirus epidemic. He used his Christmas Day address as an opportunity to call for health care for everyone, vaccinations for the sick, and dialogue in the resolution of world conflicts.

Only a handful of thousand people flocked St. Peter’s Square to witness Francis’ annual ‘Urbi et Orbi’ Christmas address. This was amid a record setting rise in COVID-19-related cases in Italy.  

Normaly, the square would be crowded with holiday-wishers in their thousands, but this year, many people will be thankful that they could visit it at all. Francis was forced to give a Televised Address from the Apostolic Palace because of lockdown. 

Italy has now seen more than 50,000 people in one day this week, but the government is not imposing another lockdown.

Pope Francis waves to the gathered faithful following his Christmas Urbi et Orbi blessing in St. Peter's Square at The Vatican on December 25, 2021.

Pope Francis waved to the gathered faithful after his Christmas Urbi et Orbi blessing at St. Peter’s Square, The Vatican, December 25, 2021.

Amid a record-setting rise in COVID-19 cases in Italy this week, only a few thousand people flocked to a rain-soaked St. Peter's Square for Francis' annual 'Urbi et Orbi' (To the city and the world) Christmas address.

In the midst of a record rise in COVID-19 case in Italy, just a few thousand people flocked into St. Peter’s Square to witness Francis’ annual ‘Urbi et Orbi’ (To both the city and the whole world) Christmas address.

Christmas Day is a time when the pope has an opportunity to call attention to global conflicts. 

Francis was critical of ongoing conflict in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq as well as tensions rising in Ukraine, Ethiopia and a ‘unprecedented’ crisis in Lebanon.

The loggia in St. Peter’s Basilica was where he spoke. Below, the Swiss Guards were at his feet.

Francis warned about the tendency to isolate and withdraw from the global pandemic, and urged instead for dialogue in order to solve world problems. 

He specifically prayed for the victims of the virus, which included women who were subject to increased abuse in lockdowns.

The victims of violence against females, which is on the rise in these times of epidemic, need your comfort. Offer comfort to adolescents and young children suffering from bullying, abuse and other forms of bullying,” he stated.

He asked for comfort and warmth for those who were older, alone or for care workers to care for the sick.

A handout picture taken and released by the Vatican Media shows Pope Francis delivering his Christmas Urbi et Orbi blessing in St. Peter's Square at The Vatican on December 25, 2021.

The Vatican Media released a handout photo showing Pope Francis delivering the Christmas Urbi et Orbi blessing on St. Peter’s Square in The Vatican, December 25, 2021.

Normally the square would be packed with tens of thousands of holiday well-wishers, but many will be grateful they were able to visit the square at all this Christmas, after last year's lockdown forced Francis to deliver a televised address from inside the Apostolic Palace (attendees stand in the rain at St. Peter's Square)

The square is normally crowded with thousands of holiday wishers. However, many people will be glad they were able visit this year’s Christmas celebration.

Believers gather under the rain to listen to the Pope Francis' Christmas Urbi et Orbi blessing in St. Peter's Square at The Vatican on December 25, 2021

On December 25, 2021, believers gathered under the drizzle to hear the Pope Francis’ Christmas Urbi et Orbi blessing.

He said, “Grant health and inspiration to all men and woman of goodwill to find the best way to overturn the current health crisis. “Open your heart to provide the necessary medical attention, and vaccinations to those who most need it.

Francis spoke hours after having celebrated the ‘Midnight Mass,’ a service attended by around 2000 people. It was only a fraction from the Basilica’s full capacity. 

It actually started at 7:30 PM, in honor of the endurance of the Pope aged 85 and as a holdover from last year when it had to close before Italy’s COVID-19 curfew.

Italy set another record for daily pandemics on Friday, with 54,599 cases added to the total. Italy now has a total of 136,386 people who have died from pandemics.

This week, the Vatican secretary-of-state imposed a new vaccination mandate to Vatican staff in light of the arrival of the Omicron variant of the disease in Italy. It was not applicable to those who had recovered from COVID-19.

Only employees dealing with the public were required to have their vaccinations, like the personnel of the Vatican Museums, and the Swiss Guards. Regular testing was available for other Vatican employees. There is currently no exemption from the requirement to test out.

The Pope's Christmas Day balcony message followed Midnight Mass, during which Francis called on the faithful to value the 'little things in life' and show solidarity with the poor. Pope Francis uncovers the statue of baby Jesus during the Christmas Eve mass at St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, on December 24, 2021

After Midnight Mass, where Francis appealed to the faithful for solidarity and value of the ‘littles in life’, the Pope delivered a Christmas Day balcony message. Pope Francis discovers the infant Jesus statue at St Peter’s Basilica (Vatican), on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2021

Pope Francis sprays incense to a figurine of baby Jesus before leading a Christmas Eve mass at St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, on December 24, 2021

Pope Francis sprays incense onto a statue of Jesus Christ before leading Christmas Eve mass in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on December 24, 2021

Midnight Mass was held before the Pope’s Christmas Day message from the balcony. It included a call to the faithful for solidarity and appreciation of the ‘little’ things in life.

According to the Vatican’s press release, around 2,000 people and 200 religious leaders attended St Peter’s Basilica mass. They wore face masks and observed social distancing in order to combat the coronavirus.

The church was surrounded by huge monitors that showed those who couldn’t get tickets.

As the Sistine Chapel Choir sang Noel in the Basilica’s central aisle, an unmasked Francis walked down the center aisle. This was the start of Vatican’s Christmas Holiday that celebrates Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.

Around the globe, you can also see worshippers gathering in American cities, Sri Lankan, Iraqi, Kenya, and Russia for their annual mass.

Despite the rise in Covid-19-related cases, the Vatican continued to provide its services. This has led to a mandate for new vaccinations by Vatican staff.