Vatican City, Holy See:
Hundreds of millions of people around the world celebrated reduced Christmas festivities due to coronavirus restrictions on Friday when Pope Francis called for vaccines for everyone, calling them “a glimmer of hope in this time of darkness and uncertainty”.
The pandemic has claimed more than 1.7 million lives and is still widespread in much of the world. However, the recent launch of mass vaccination campaigns has raised hopes that 2021 could take a break.
Like so many around the world, the Pope was forced to break with the normal Christmas tradition and make his annual “Urbi et Orbi” speech on video from the Apostolic Palace to prevent a crowd from gathering in St. Peter’s Square.
“I urge everyone, heads of state, companies, international organizations to promote cooperation rather than competition and to find a solution for everyone: vaccines for everyone, especially those most at risk and in need in all regions of the planet. ” he said.
In her own annual Christmas speech, the British Queen Elizabeth II spoke of hope even in “difficult and unpredictable times”.
“Of course, this time of year will be marked by grief for many: some grieve for those they love and others miss friends and family who are aloof for safety reasons when all they would really want for Christmas is an easy one Hug or a squeeze on the hand, “she said.
“If you are with them, you are not alone,” she added, saying she was proud of those in the UK and around the world who “have grown magnificently to the challenges of the year”.
The UK has had a particularly difficult time after a new strain of coronavirus was discovered that is believed to spread much faster.
It was already one of the toughest countries in Europe, with a total of 25 million confirmed cases as of Friday.
Last week it was the first global region where more than 500,000 people died from the virus.
“A way out of this tragedy”
World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a video message that “vaccines offer the world a way out of this tragedy,” but one that “takes time.”
Tedros hailed the “heartbreaking sacrifices” millions made by staying away from loved ones on Christmas Day.
“We must not waste their victims,” he said, urging people to keep infection control measures in place.
In Asia, churches across South Korea were largely empty. Worshipers gathered online as the country reported a new daily record of case numbers.
“It’s really heartbreaking to see,” said Park Jae-woo, a member of the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, which would normally expect up to 10,000 believers but only welcomed 15 staff and choir members on Friday.
And in the Catholic-majority Philippines, church services were shaken when a 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit the country, ending a troubled Christmas season already dampened by party bans and Christmas carols.
“Sad, very sad. Seeing everyone in masks, even the priest and altar servers, reminded me that the world as I know it is not the same,” said Kyen Quimpo Mallonga of Manila after watching Christmas Eve mass on television Had seen instead of attending local church.
Despite the warm weather, the usual picnic crowds also avoided the sands of Sydney’s Bondi Beach while the waves were empty for Santa Clauses surfing and police patrolling enforced the rules of social distancing.
Thin crowds in Bethlehem
Bethlehem, where Christians believe that Jesus was born, was preparing for a Christmas that has no equal in recent history.
Christmas Eve Mass in the Church of the Nativity is traditionally the highlight of a Christmas season, when hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to the Palestinian city in the occupied West Bank.
The service was held online this year, with only clergy and selected people allowed to enter the basilica.
“Everyone feels darkened, tired, exhausted and oppressed for too long under the heavy burden of this pandemic that has besieged our lives,” said the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa.
In war-ravaged northeastern Syria, hundreds of residents of a predominantly Christian neighborhood in Qamishli city threw off face masks and donned Christmas hats to celebrate a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony.
“We feared that the celebrations would be canceled this year due to the novel coronavirus, but as you can see everyone is celebrating here and we’re excited,” said Maria Danhou, a 36-year-old mother of two.
Germany was forced to cancel its famous Christmas markets, while in Kuwait churches were closed until January 10, despite a large Christian community living here.
For many, the isolation that defined last year will continue beyond Christmas Day – for example in Belgium, where residents largely limit themselves to greeting a single visitor.
Meanwhile, the British have been cut off from parts of the world due to the emergence of the new Covid-19 strain.
Some UK border restrictions have been temporarily relaxed for the holidays, but thousands from other European countries are still stranded in England.
“Christmas at home? Forget it,” said Laurent Beghin, a French truck driver who delivered his cargo but was still stuck days later.
However, more than 1,000 waiting trucks arrived at the French port of Calais on Friday with the hope that the bottleneck could be resolved by Saturday.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)