In the wake of the Corona pandemic, Christians around the world have been celebrating Christmas. Few out-of-town tourists traveled to his birthplace of Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of Jesus this year because of the restrictions in place. Vatican moved traditional Christmas Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica up two hours due to curfews in effect in Italy. The Christmas Eve service with Pope Francis was also attended by around 7 instead of the usual 7.000 visitors, only about 200 took part. In Germany, the top representatives of the two major churches addressed viewers on Christmas Eve directly after the ARD daytime news program with an ecumenical word on the Corona crisis.
In his Christmas Eve homily, the pope stressed that God’s Son was born two millennia ago completely unnoticed "to tell us that every disregarded person is a child of God". Christians should be there for others instead of feeling sorry for themselves.
On Friday, Christmas Day, Francis offered the blessing "Urbi et orbi" ("To the city and to the world"). Earlier, he called for peace in the world, recalling wars and conflicts in places such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen. He again urged those responsible in Lebanon and South Sudan to do their part to resolve the simmering crises there. Francis also urged a fair distribution of Corona vaccines, including to the "most vulnerable and needy in all regions of the world".
Pope’s Boxing Day address online and on TV
On Boxing Day, the commemoration of the first Christian martyr Stephen, Francis recalled the fate of persecuted Christians worldwide. Pope’s address broadcast only on TV and online due to corona-related restrictions.
In St. Catherine’s Church in Bethlehem, filled with only 150 people, the new Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, encouraged on Christmas Eve to build a "new world" in solidarity and brotherhood. The Corona pandemic and the suffering associated with it made people aware that all people are connected and responsible for one another, the head of Roman Catholics in the Holy Land said.
The head of the Anglican state church of England also made reference to the consequences of the pandemic in the British city of Canterbury. For many people, the year ending was a "year of darkness," Archbishop Justin Welby said. In addition to Corona, economic crises and climate change, among other things, are responsible for this.
Archbishop Welby: hope with vaccine and Brexit agreement
In contrast, the message of Christmas is that with the birth of Jesus, light has come into the world. God does not allow darkness to win the day, Welby says. That’s why, even in a supposedly gloomy year like 2020, there are signs of hope, such as the Corona vaccines or the Brexit agreement reached between Britain and the EU on Christmas Eve.
In Germany, the chairman of the Catholic German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Georg Batzing, and the chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, encouraged citizens to take the Corona crisis as an "invitation to live consciously" and as an "invitation to a new togetherness.". It is important to show consideration for one another even in these days and thus protect human life, Batzing and Bedford-Strohm said in a joint address that was broadcast on Christmas Eve following the ARD daily news program.
First concert after fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris
Meanwhile, in France, a special Christmas concert made headlines. There, the TV station France 2 showed on Christmas Eve a concert recorded a few days earlier from the Paris Cathedral Notre-Dame. It was the first such performance since a fire devastated the French capital’s landmark in 2019.