Pope celebrates Christmas Eve Mass as virus surges in Italy

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis has celebrated Christmas Eve Mass before an estimated 2,000 people in St. Peter's Basilica.

He went ahead with the service despite the resurgence in COVID-19 cases that prompted a new vaccine mandate for Vatican employees.

A maskless Francis processed down the central aisle of the basilica as the Sistine Chapel choir sang "Noel," kicking off the Vatican's Christmas holiday that commemorates the birth of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem.

Friday's "Midnight Mass" actually began at 7:30 p.m., a nod to the 85-year-old pope's endurance and a hold-over from last year, when the service had to end before Italy's nationwide COVID-19 curfew.

For the second day running, Italy on Friday registered a record in daily infections.

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