Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis has canceled a ceremony that has been held since 1953 to mark the beginning of Rome’s Christmas season, the Vatican said Monday.
The pope customarily places flowers at the base of a column at the Spanish Steps bearing a statue of the Madonna — and blesses another wreath placed around the statue’s arm by firefighters, Reuters reported.
Thousands of people usually line nearby streets to pray with the pope, but the Vatican said Francis would skip the Dec. 8 ceremony during the Feast of the Immaculate Conception “in order to avoid any risk of contagion caused by gatherings of people.”
The Vatican added that the pope would instead hold a private service to entrust the city, its people and the sick around the globe to the Madonna, according to Reuters.
It has already announced that access to all of the pontiff’s Christmas activities — including his “Urbi et Orbi” (“To the city and the world”) blessing — will be restricted because of the pandemic.
Pope Francis (center right) and Vicar General of Rome Agostino Vallini attend the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.Getty Images
Moreover, only a limited number of people will be allowed into St. Peter’s Basilica for the pope’s Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Masses, which will be broadcast on TV and streamed online.
Italy has recorded 54,904 coronavirus deaths and more than 1.5 million cases since the outbreak emerged in February.