Another COVID Christmas brings anxiety, but also optimism

  • Tony O'Connor, originally from Manchester, England, rides a surfboard while wearing a Santa hat as he celebrates Christmas at Bondi Beach in Sydney. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Christmas arrived around the world Saturday amid a surge in COVID-19 infections that kept many families apart, overwhelmed hospitals and curbed religious observances as the pandemic was poised to stretch into a third year.

Yet, there were homilies of hope, as vaccines and other treatments become more available.

ADVERTISING


Pope Francis used his Christmas address to pray for more vaccines to reach the poorest countries. While wealthy countries have inoculated as much as 90% of their adult populations, 8.9% of Africa’s people are fully jabbed, making it the world’s least-vaccinated continent.

Only a few thousand well-wishers turned out for his noontime address and blessing, but even that was better than last year, when Italy’s Christmas lockdown forced Francis indoors for the annual “Urbi et Orbi” (“To the city and the world”) speech.

“Grant health to the infirm and inspire all men and women of goodwill to seek the best ways possible to overcome the current health crisis and its effects,” Francis said from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica. “Open hearts to ensure that necessary medical care — and vaccines in particular — are provided to those peoples who need them most.”

In the United States, many churches canceled in-person services, but for those that did have in-person worship, clerics reported smaller 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,” the Rev. Ken Boller told his parishioners during midnight Mass at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in New York City. “Breakthrough used to be a happy word for us, until it was associated with COVID. And in the midst of it all, we celebrate Christmas.”

The Rev. 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 less than last year’s, 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 in a nearby high school because of a church fire this year.

The Mass drew about 550 people, said Youngstown Bishop David Bonnar, who presided.

In Britain, Queen Elizabeth II noted another year of pain — particularly personal after losing her husband, Prince Philip, in April — and urged people to celebrate with friends and family.

“Although it’s a time of great happiness and good cheer for many, Christmas can be hard for those who have lost loved ones,” the queen said in the prerecorded message broadcast when many British families were enjoying their traditional Christmas dinner. “This year, especially, I understand why.”

The head of intensive care at a hospital in Marseille, France, said most COVID-19 patients over Christmas were unvaccinated, while his staff are exhausted or can’t work because they are infected.

“We’re sick of this,” said Dr. Julien Carvelli, the ICU chief at La Timone Hospital, as his team spent another Christmas Eve tending to COVID-19 patients on breathing machines. “We’re afraid we won’t have enough space.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email hawaiiwarriorworld@staradvertiser.com.