Vatican, Italy start return to religious normal as public Masses resume

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Pope Francis inaugurated the full reopening of St. Peter’s Basilica on Monday and Catholic churches held public Masses for the first time in two months in the latest easing of Italy’s coronavirus restrictions.

Francis said a private Mass in a side chapel where St. John Paul II is buried to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the late Polish pope’s birth.

The basilica, which on Friday underwent a sanitising to make it as cornavirus-free as possible, later opened to the public for Masses by priests on other side altars after the pope had left.

Signs in English and Italian told those entering that they had to keep at least 1.5 metres (five feet) apart, wear masks and sanitize their hands.

Churches throughout Italy began holding Masses under strict new guidelines worked out between the country’s bishops and government.

The faithful will have to wear masks. Priests can celebrate most of the Mass without masks but they will have to wear one, as well as gloves, when they distribute the communion wafer. The communion is to be given in the hand and not the mouth.

On Sunday, the pope urged Italian to observe the new norms “in order to defend each other’s health and the health of the people”.

But, according to an Italian reporter inside the basilica on Monday morning, at least one priest at a side altar did not wear gloves or a mask while giving communion.

Technically, St. Peter’s has remained open during the Italian lockdown which began in early March, although only for private prayer. Only very few people have entered because of increased security to avoid gatherings in the square outside.

The Vatican has not yet announced when the pope will say a Mass from the main altar before the public. His services since early March have been held in an almost empty chapel in his residence and streamed live on the internet or on television.

The Vatican has said that when St. Peter’s is open for large Masses on Sundays and holy days, thermal scanners will be used to check the temperatures of those going inside.

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