Pope Francis, framed between the branches of a Christmas tree, greets the faithful he recites the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St.Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Pope celebrates Christmas at home as deputy presides in Iraq

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis is ushering in Christmas with a late-night Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, while his deputy is traveling to Iraq to celebrate with the country's long-suffering Christians.

The Mass on Christmas Eve is one of the highlights of the Vatican's liturgical year. Monday's service starts a busy week for Francis. The 82-year-old pope's schedule also includes a Christmas Day message and blessing, a Dec. 26 prayer, New Year's Eve vespers and a Jan. 1 Mass.

As Francis presided over festivities at home, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin was heading to Iraq to celebrate Christmas with the Chaldean Catholic community. Catholics are among the religious minorities devastated by Islamic State-inspired violence that has driven tens of thousands from their home.

Parolin's visit was a clear sign of Francis' personal solidarity.

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