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ROME (AP) – 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 general audience on Wednesday amid a wave of infections in Europe.
In another sign that the Vatican is once again entering a semi-lockdown mode, the Holy See has announced that it is closing the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel to the public until at least December 3.
Museums, which are a major source of revenue for the Holy See, reopened on June 1 after being closed for nearly three months during the first wave of the epidemic.
The Vatican announced last week that Francis, 83, was suspending public hearings and would celebrate all upcoming liturgies without crowds of faithful present. He made the decision after someone who attended the Pope’s hearing on October 21 tested positive, 13 Swiss guards protecting the Pope fell with the virus, and Italy reimposed new restrictions on gatherings to try to control reoccurring infections.
Francis held his audience Wednesday in his private library with a dozen priests to translate the summaries of his catechism lesson, which was broadcast live.
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 about feeling like he was in a “cage” and unable to mingle with his herd.
In his opening remarks, Francis said “unfortunately” that it was necessary to return to the library to prevent infections.
“This tells us that we must be very attentive to the prescriptions of the political and health authorities to defend ourselves against the pandemic,” said Francis. “We offer this distance between us to the Lord for the good of all. “
He offered special prayers for the sick, the doctors, the nurses, the volunteers and all those who work with the sick “who risk their lives but do it for love, their vocation and the love of the other”.
The priests kept their distance from Francis during the audience but no one wore protective masks.
Francis resumed his general public audiences on September 2, inviting small groups of worshipers to a courtyard and the Vatican auditorium. He drew criticism on social media and some in the Vatican for refusing to wear a face mask when he greeted priests at the end of the weekly meeting.
At the end of Wednesday’s hearing, Francis offered prayers for the victims of the recent “deplorable” attacks in Europe. He cited the murderous attack on the church in Nice and the shooting in Vienna and denounced how some use violence and hatred to disrupt brotherhood between people.