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Pope Francis attends NYE prayer service but cancels nativity scene visit

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Pope Francis attends NYE prayer service but cancels nativity scene visit
Pope Francis delivers the Urbi et Orbi on Christmas Day, December 25, 2021 at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. He spoke in a New Year's Eve prayer service at St. Peter’s Basilica on Friday. Photo by Stefano Spaziani/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Pope Francis attended a prayer service at St. Peter's Basilica on Friday but canceled his customary post-service visit to the life-sized nativity scene in St. Peter's Square to prevent crowds from gathering amid the surge in COVID-19 cases worldwide.

Francis delivered the homily, or commentary that follows a reading of scripture, while Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, deacon of the College of Cardinals, presided over the rest of the service, according to the Catholic News Agency.

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In his homily, Pope Francis said people have felt a "sense of being lost" during the coronavirus pandemic after the initial feeling of solidarity in enduring the pandemic together dissipated, according to Vatican News -- which is funded by the Holy See.

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Francis said that people have been presented with the temptation of "everyone out for themselves" but that people are called by God to show responsibility toward others, according to the outlet.

RELATED Pope's letter advises those married suffering through COVID-19

"Thank God we reacted again with a sense of responsibility," he said.

The comments from Francis echo remarks he made Sunday in a letter penned to provide advice and encouragement to married couples and their families suffering through the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his letter, Francis encouraged married couples to remember to engage in "mutual forgiveness" which "heals all wounds" after encountering conflict and noted that young, engaged couples have had trouble planning their futures together because of the "difficulty of finding stable employment."

"Now that the labor market is even more insecure, I urge engaged couples not to feel discouraged," Francis wrote. "Do not hesitate to rely on your families and friends, on the ecclesial community, on your parish, to help you prepare for marriage and family life."

Francis wrote that in the past two years of the pandemic, families have suffered through "uncertainty, loneliness, the loss of loved ones" and been forced to leave behind "comfort zones" to work to benefit "society as a whole."

Italy has experienced an incredible increase in cases amid the spread of the Omicron variant, with 78,300 new cases reported in the last 24hours, according to data from the World Health Organization.

The country has experienced a total of 5,756,412 cases since the start of the pandemic, with 136,955 deaths, the data shows. Italy hit its highest number of weekly coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic on Dec. 20, jumping up 62% to 257,579 cases from 158,574 cases the week prior.

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