In his Christmas Day address, Pope Francis appealed to the nations of the world to share the new coronavirus vaccines with the most needy.
"Today, in this time of darkness and uncertainty regarding the pandemic, various lights of hope appear, such as the discovery of vaccines," Francis said. "But for these lights to illuminate and bring hope to all, they need to be available to all."
The pope traditionally delivers his Christmas message and blessing from the outdoor central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, addressing thousands squeezed into the piazza below. This year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, that ceremony was moved to the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the reigning pontiff, before a much smaller group.
The pope used the occasion to highlight the need for countries to help each other "in the face of a challenge that knows no borders."
"We cannot allow the various forms of nationalism closed in on themselves to prevent us from living as the truly human family that we are," Francis said. "Nor can we allow the virus of radical individualism to get the better of us and make us indifferent to the suffering of other brothers and sisters."
Traditionally the most important papal message, delivered on Easter and Christmas and known as the "Urbi et Orbi" ("to the City [of Rome] and to the World"), usually encourages countries to consider the challenges faced by the most vulnerable. This year, that message was particularly urgent, as thousands succumb to COVID-19 every day.
According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, nearly 330,000 people in the U.S. have died due to the virus since the start of the pandemic, by far the world's highest death toll.
In Italy, where more than 14,000 people have died so far this month, a nationwide lockdown went into effect on Christmas Eve.
Italy is set to deliver the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine Sunday, The Associated Press reports. As in other countries, health care workers and nursing home residents will be first to receive it. Seniors and others at high risk of exposure would be next.
The Vatican earlier this month said the use of coronavirus vaccines is "morally acceptable," even if some vaccines are manufactured using "cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process."
Francis, who turned 84 earlier this month, urged that everyone who needs a vaccine have access to it.
"I cannot place myself ahead of others, letting the law of the marketplace and patents take precedence over the law of love and the health of humanity," Francis said. "I ask everyone — government leaders, businesses, international organizations — to foster cooperation and not competition, and to seek a solution for everyone: vaccines for all, especially for the most vulnerable and needy of all regions of the planet."
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