ROME – Pope Francis urged people to follow recommendations from governments and health authorities to prevent coronavirus infections as he returned to his private library for his Wednesday general audience amid a surge of infections in Europe.
In another sign that the Vatican was reentering a semi-lockdown mode again, the Holy See announced that it was shuttering the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel to the public until at least Dec. 3.
The museums, which are a major source of revenue for the Holy See, had reopened June 1 after a nearly three-month shutdown during the first wave of the outbreak.
The Vatican announced last week that Francis, 83, was suspending public audiences and would celebrate all upcoming liturgies without throngs of faithful present. It made the decision after someone who attended the pope's Oct. 21 audience tested positive, 13 Swiss Guards who protect the pope came down with the virus and Italy reimposed new restrictions on gatherings to try to tame resurging infections.
Francis held his audience Wednesday in his private library with around 10 priests to translate summaries of his catechism lesson, which was livestreamed.
It was the same setup Francis used during the Vatican’s nearly three-month COVID-19 lockdown in the spring and summer. Then, he complained it felt like he was in a “cage" and unable to mingle with his flock.
In his opening remarks, Francis said “unfortunately” it was necessary to return to the library to prevent infections.
“This tells us we have to be very attentive to the prescriptions of political and health authorities to defend us against the pandemic," Francis said. “We offer to the Lord this distance among us for the good of all.”
He offered special prayers for the sick, doctors, nurses, volunteers and all those working with the sick “who are risking their lives but do it out of love, their vocation and love of the other.”
The priests kept their distance from Francis during the audience but no one wore protective face masks.
Francis resumed his general audiences in public on Sept. 2, inviting small groups of faithful into a Vatican courtyard and the Vatican auditorium. He drew criticism on social media and from some within the Vatican for refusing to wear a face mask when he greeted priests at the end of the weekly encounter.
At the end of Wednesday's audience, Francis offered prayers for the victims of recent “deplorable" attacks in Europe. He cited the deadly Nice church attack and the Vienna shooting and denounced how some use violence and hatred to disrupt fraternity among people.