Pope Francis holds ceremony after Italy relaxes COVID-19 restrictions

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By Alessio Dellanna  & AP
Pope Francis celebrates a private mass to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of late Pope John Paul II. Rome, May 18, 2020.
Pope Francis celebrates a private mass to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of late Pope John Paul II. Rome, May 18, 2020.   -  Copyright  HANDOUT / VATICAN MEDIA / AFP

Pope Francis held his first post-lockdown ceremony after Italy further eased its COVID-19 restrictions.

It was a private event in the chapel of St Peter's Basilica in Rome to mark the 100th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's birth.

Speaking to around 30 people including priests, nuns and worshippers, the Pope said the late Polish pontiff was a pastor sent by God.

Francis had been live-streaming mass since March 9, when Italy first imposed a nationwide lockdown.

Italy churches reopen with social distancing measures

Churches, bars, restaurants and shops reopened in Italy on Monday.

Like elsewhere, those going to church must comply with social distancing regulations. Gloves and face masks must be worn at all time.

Priests cannot shake hands as a sign of peace and must wear gloves when distributing the sacramental bread.

The gloves can't be thrown in the bin and must be cleaned instead, for they touch a sacred object.

Among other measures, choirs remain banned, the holy water container must stay empty, and the church must be sanitised at the end of every ceremony.

Cardinal, Gualtiero Bassetti, President of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) said that today "is not just about reopening a sacred place, but rather about expressing the feeling of being a community again, as well as a family".

Faithful enthusiastic to be back at church

Father Jose Maria Galvan, of San Eugenio Church in Rome, commented: "It is obvious that it is not the same thing (using gloves).

"You have to be very careful, for example, to clean the glove afterwards, because part of the Eucharist could remain on it, so you can't just throw it right away into the trash can."

"We have to use the same system of cleaning that we use for all the sacred objects. It is not something we enjoy, but at the same time it is a necessity and I am very happy that He understands that very well - I mean the Lord, no?"

Churchgoers were thrilled to be able to attend Mass again after watching it online for several weeks.

"It was quite emotional, after three months where we were obliged to stay far away from the Mass," parishioner Antonio Picano said.

"We usually go to this mass in the morning before going to work. 

"It's a group of friends, people who know each other...and finding ourselves back together after a long time is a deep feeling."