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ROME – On Oct. 1, everyone who enters Vatican City will need a COVID-19 pass showing they have either been fully vaccinated, tested negative, or have recently recovered from the disease.
The policy applies to both employees and visitors to the microstate but doesn’t include St. Peter’s Basilica or Square. Those entering will have to present a certificate issued either by the Vatican – for its citizens – the European Union, or an equivalent foreign COVID-19 certification attesting to vaccination or recent recovery – within the last 180 days – or a COVID-19 test made in the previous 72 hours will have to be shown.
Masses celebrated by Pope Francis or other priests will remain an exception.
It is unclear if the faithful who want to participate in Pope Francis’ Wednesday weekly audiences will need the Green Pass – as the certificate is called in Europe – while they are being held in the Paul VI Hall within Vatican City.
The Vatican museums have already required a Green Pass for entry.
The decision was announced Monday by the President of the Pontifical Commission of Vatican City State, Italian Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, in an ordinance on public health emergencies.
On Thursday, the Italian government made it mandatory for all workers to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test as of Oct. 15, in an effort to boost its vaccination campaign. It’s already required for indoor activities such as dining, going to the gym or cinema, as well as for travelling. COVID-19 testing is paid by the individual in Italy, averaging $25. Vaccines, on the other hand, are free and still widely available.
The Vatican’s ordinance was made after a recommendation that Pope Francis gave to Bertello during a private audience on September 7, to “ensure the health and well-being of the working community while respecting the dignity, rights and fundamental freedoms of each of its members” and to “adopt every suitable measure to prevent, control and counteract the health emergency.”
According to the ordinance, the only exception concerns liturgical celebrations “for the time strictly necessary for the performance of the rite”, during which social distancing and other protective measures will be enforced.
Vatican City became the first country to offer all of its citizens and employees free COVID-19 vaccines in January, with Pope Francis and his predecessor, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI being among the first ones in line to receive their jabs, due to their age.
Though widely advertised, it was not mandatory, and several employees opted out. It’s unclear if they will face any penalties for refusing the vaccination, particularly those who haven’t had the virus and thus have no natural immunity. Up until now, they’ve had to pay for COVID-19 test out of pocket, and several of them consulted by Crux presume they will have to continue to do so.
Francis has been a strong advocate for a just and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines throughout the world, especially to those most in need, and has described vaccination “an act of love.”
His last remarks on the subject came last Wednesday, during the flight press conference he gave to the 78 journalists who had traveled with him to Budapest and Slovakia.
“It is a bit strange because humanity has a history of friendship with vaccines,” he said aboard the plane returning from Slovakia, responding to a question from a reporter about the reasons for vaccine hesitancy.
“As children (we were vaccinated) for measles, polio. All the children were vaccinated, and no one said anything,” he said.
“Even in the College of Cardinals there are some vaccine negationists,” he told reporters. “But one of them, poor guy, has been hospitalized with the virus. These are the ironies of life.”
Though the pontiff didn’t give the name of the cardinal, he was referring to American Cardinal Raymond Burke, a vaccine sceptic, who was hospitalized in the United States last month after contracting the virus, and spent several days on a ventilator.
At the time, Francis also said that debates over the vaccine could increase fears and uncertainty about the jabs, to which he said, “we should clarify things and speak calmly.”
He hypothesized that the “virulence of uncertainty” on some arguments against the vaccines was due to their diversity, the quick approval time and the plethora of “arguments that created this division,” and fear.
Some pro-life advocates, particularly in the United States, have refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine, citing the connection to lines of cells derived from aborted fetuses. However, late last year the Vatican’s doctrine office has said it is “morally acceptable” for Catholics to receive any of the COVID-19 vaccines available.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma