No crying in Sistine Chapel as baptisms cancelled amid COVID

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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -There will be no crying in the chapel this year.

A traditional ceremony in which popes baptise newborn babies in the Sistine Chapel has been cancelled because of coronavirus restrictions, the Vatican said on Tuesday.

The ceremony, which involves several dozen babies, their parents, godparents and family members, was to have taken place this Sunday, the day the Roman Catholic Church marks the feast of the baptism of Jesus.

The cancellation, believed to be the first since the tradition was started by Pope John Paul II decades ago, was announced after Italy decided to keep some nationwide holiday restrictions that were to expire on Thursday in place this weekend to slow infections.

Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has added a new twist to the ceremony, telling mothers not to be ashamed to breastfeed their babies under Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes if they cry from hunger.

The Vatican has severely limited or excluded public participation in papal events because of the coronavirus.

Italy has registered 75,680 COVID-19 deaths since its outbreak came to light on Feb. 21, the highest toll in Europe and the fifth highest in the world. The country has also reported 2.166 million cases to date, according to the health ministry.

Pope Francis is due to preside at an Epiphany Mass on Wednesday.

Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Mike Collett-White