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At The Vatican, A Christmas Eve Mass Shaped By The Pandemic

To a world upended by the coronavirus, Pope Francis offered a timeless message during a Christmas Eve Mass that was itself shaped by the ongoing pandemic.

The Mass was celebrated in a smaller rear section of St. Peter's Basilica, and only 100 or so people were present, Reuters reported. In normal times without a pandemic, the Mass is celebrated in the main part of the basilica before some 10,000 people.

All in attendance wore masks except for the pontiff and a small choir. Those in the pews sat at a distance from one another.

The Mass began two hours earlier than is traditional, so that those attending could make it home by the 10 p.m. curfew in place as part of Italy's measures to stem the pandemic. The service was streamed live on the Vatican's YouTube channel.

Italy went into a modified lockdown on Thursday, the first of three such periods between Christmas Eve and Jan. 6, following a steep increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. On Wednesday, Italy reported13,908 new confirmed cases and 553 deaths.

"The birth of Jesus is the 'newness' that enables us to be reborn each year, and to find, in Him, the strength needed to face every trial," the pontiff said in his homily, according to the Vatican's news service.

He also spoke of the need to help those in poverty, reflected on "our injustice toward so many of our brothers and sisters" – and offered a reminder Jesus was himself an outcast.

"The Son of God was born an outcast, in order to tell us that every outcast is a child of God," Francis said, according to Reuters.

"God came among us in poverty and need, to tell us that in serving the poor, we will show our love for him."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.