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Churches hold scaled-back, online services for Christmas

Churches hold scaled-back, online services for Christmas
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Churches across the nation and around the globe held scaled-back or online services for Christmas amid social distancing recommendations during the coronavirus pandemic.

Many churches curtailed their attendance to keep parishioners spaced out. The Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus, was seen with a much smaller crowd than it had in previous years.

Services elsewhere included ceremonies filled with masked worshippers, churches with every other pew empty and events held on digital platforms so people could participate from home.

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No ceremony was unaffected by the pandemic that has killed more than 1.7 million people. Pope FrancisPope FrancisItaly commemorates one-year anniversary of its first known COVID-19 case Vatican says workers refusing vaccines may be fired Pope's council on capitalism should instead address corrupt governments MORE had to rejigger the most famous Christmas celebration in the world, delivering his blessings from inside the Vatican rather than the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to tens of thousands of people in years past.

“If the #pandemic has forced us to be more distant, Jesus, in the crib, shows us the way of tenderness to be close to each other, to be human. Let us follow this path. #Christmas #GeneralAudience,” he tweeted Wednesday.

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Restrictions over religious services have not been without controversy. Churches across the U.S. have filed several lawsuits against state and local restrictions, finding a friendlier ear in the Supreme Court than in the past.

The high court earlier this month sided with religious groups in Colorado and New Jersey that sought carve-outs from their state's COVID-19 limits. Former Attorney General William BarrBill BarrMajority of Republicans say 2020 election was invalid: poll Biden administration withdraws from Connecticut transgender athlete case Justice Department renews investigation into George Floyd's death: report MORE this year urged federal prosecutors to monitor public health orders for potential infractions on civil liberties, with a special focus on religious institutions, during the pandemic.

In the nation's capital, the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and D.C. Mayor Muriel BowserMuriel BowserNAACP president accuses Trump of having operated under 'white supremacist doctrine' DC vaccine sign-ups plagued with technical problems The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Ahead: One-shot vax, easing restrictions, fiscal help MORE (D) reached an agreement earlier this week over indoor attendance limits placed on worship services that allows houses of worship to seat up to 25 percent of their capacity or up to 250 people, whichever is smaller.

Still, local officials have urged residents to stay home as the coronavirus rages across the country.

“While some churches may now allow up to 250 worshippers to attend services,” D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said in a statement, “I strongly encourage residents to continue following the guidance of medical and public health experts and help stop the spread of COVID-19: stay home whenever possible, and avoid spending time indoors with people outside your household.”