Christmas arrived around the world on Saturday amid an outbreak of COVID-19 infections that separated many families, overwhelmed hospitals and curbed religious observances as the pandemic was set to spread into a third year.
Yet there have been homilies of hope, as vaccines and other treatments become more available.
Pope Francis used his Christmas address to pray for more vaccines to reach the poorest countries. While rich countries have vaccinated up to 90% of their adult population, 8.9% of Africans are fully vaccinated, making it the least vaccinated continent in the world.
Only a few thousand supporters came for his midday speech and blessing, but even that was better than last year, when the Christmas lockdown in Italy forced Francis inside for the annual ‘Urbi et Orbi’ (“To the city and to the world”) word.
“Grant health to the infirm and inspire all men and women of good will to seek the best possible means to overcome the current health crisis and its effects,” Francis said from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica. “Open hearted to ensure that necessary medical care – and vaccines in particular – are provided to those who need it most. “
In the United States, many churches have canceled in-person services, but for those that had in-person worship, clerics reported lower but significant attendance.
“Our hopes for a normal Christmas have been tempered by omicron this year … still filled with uncertainties and threats that overshadow us,” Reverend Ken Boller told his parishioners at midnight mass at St. François Xavier in New York. “Breakthrough was a happy word for us, until it was associated with COVID. And in the midst of it all, we celebrate Christmas.
Reverend Alex Karloutsos, of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary Church of the Hamptons in Southampton, New York, said attendance at the Christmas Eve liturgy was a third lower than last year, with “The reality of the omicron virus diminishing the crowd, but not the fervor of the faithful present.
St. Patrick’s Church in Hubbard, Ohio, held Mass on Christmas Eve at a nearby high school due to a church fire this year. The mass drew around 550 people, said Bishop of Youngstown, David Bonnar, who presided.
In Britain, Queen Elizabeth II noted another year of pain – especially personal after losing her husband Prince Philip in April – and urged people to celebrate with friends and family.
“Although it is a time of great happiness and good humor for many, Christmas can be difficult for those who have lost loved ones,” the Queen said in the pre-recorded message released when many British families were enjoying their traditional dinner of Christmas. “This year, above all, I understand why.
Thousands of people across Britain received a Christmas vaccine booster as new cases hit a new daily high of 122,186. The Good Health Pharmacy in North London was one of dozens of sites who remained open on Saturday to administer “jingle jabs” amid government pressure to offer booster shots to all adults by the end of the year.
The head of intensive care at a hospital in Marseille, France, said most COVID-19 patients at Christmas were unvaccinated, while his staff are exhausted or unable to work because they are infected .
“We’re sick of this,” said Dr Julien Carvelli, head of intensive care at La Timone hospital, as his team spent another Christmas Eve treating COVID-19 patients on breathing apparatus. “We are afraid that we will not have enough space.”
Across the globe, hundreds of thousands of people in the Philippines, Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation, spent Christmas without a home, electricity, adequate food or water after a powerful typhoon struck minus 375 died last week and devastated most of the time. central island provinces.
Governor Arthur Yap of the hard-hit Bohol province, where more than 100 people died in the typhoon and around 150,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, called for help. He was happy that many Filipinos could celebrate Christmas in a safer way after COVID-19 cases fell, but he begged, “Please don’t forget us. “
At least one American Christmas tradition was revived after the pandemic brought it online last year: the annual re-enactment of George Washington’s daring crossing of the Delaware River in 1776. The reenactors in three boats completed the crossing in about an hour on Saturday. The crowds numbered in the hundreds, compared to the usual thousands.
COVID-19 testing continued unhindered in some places, while other sites closed for the day.
The lines that circled the block in a small test facility in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood on previous days declined significantly on Saturday, when the only customers inside were Shayna Prihoda and Michael Boundy, whose tests were negative. released them to visit parents in Boundy, Michigan.
“We would have stayed at home and quarantined,” Boundy said.
The growing number of cases in Florida has made testing almost as popular as Christmas ham. Florida broke a new case record for the second day in a row.
Hours before a test site opened at Tropical Park in Miami, dozens of cars lined up. To alleviate demand, county workers distributed 12,500 home test kits to libraries on Friday.
Most of New York City’s 120 test sites were closed on Saturday, a day after police were summoned to a Brooklyn neighborhood to appease an angry crowd who expected to receive test kits at home free of charge, only to run out.
Chairs have emptied at some dinner tables after airlines around the world canceled hundreds of flights as the omicron variant scrambled schedules and cut staff.
Airlines have cut nearly 6,000 flights around the world that were scheduled to take off on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, with nearly a third involving US flights, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking website.
At a reception center for asylum seekers in Cyprus, Patricia Etoh, a Cameroonian Catholic, said she had no special plans because it just didn’t look like Christmas without her 6-year-old child, who ‘she had to leave behind. .
But she added: “We are thankful, we are alive, and when we are alive, there is hope.”
Winfield reported from Rome, Tarm from Chicago and Smith from Pittsburgh. Associated Press editors Bobby Caina Calvan and Larry Neumeister in New York, Michael Schneider in Miami, Ron Todt in Philadelphia, Danica Kirka in London, Jim Gomez in Manila and Daniel Cole in Marseille, France contributed to this report.