Pope Francis has paid tribute to the ordinary – often forgotten – people who are in the forefront of confronting the coronavirus pandemic.
In a poignant ceremony of Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament in an empty St Peter’s Square broadcast all around the world this evening, the Pontiff also said that the current crisis can serve as a wake-up call.
“From this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea.
“From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm,” the Pope said before leading adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
The ceremony also included a moment where Francis venerated the icon of Mary Salus Populi Romani and the Crucifix of San Marcello. The icon, attributed to St Luke, was carried through the city of Rome in 597 by Pope Gregory the Great to intercede during a plague. The crucifix also has signifngance for the eternal city. In 1522 when Rome was devastated by the ‘black plague’, the crucifix was taken in procession from the convent of the Servants of Mary in Via del Corso to St Peter’s Square, stopping in each neighbourhood of Rome. The procession continued for 16 days, from August 4 to 20, and the Roman tradition has it that the Plague began to disappear.
In his homily, Pope Francis said: “we can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives.
“This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves”
“How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons,” he said.
Referring to the pandemic, Pope Francis said that: “thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away”.
The Gospel reading was where Jesus calmed the storm after the disciples were afraid, and the Pope compared that to the present moment.
“We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realised that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat…are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying ‘We are perishing’, so we too have realised that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this,” he said.
Francis said that “it is easy to recognise ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he is in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: ‘Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?’
“Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: ‘Master, do you not care if we perish?’. Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them,” the Pope said.
Francis said that the current pandemic “exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities.
“The tempest lays bare all our pre-packaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetise us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly ‘save’ us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity,” he said.
The Pope said that the crisis could be a wake-up call. “In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet.
“We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: ‘Wake up, Lord!’.
“Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you…It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not.
“It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others,” he said.
The ceremony include the traditional Urbi et orbi blessing of the Pope to the city and to the world, which the Vatican confirmed carries a plenary indulgence for all who receive it, including on television, radio and new technologies.
The special moment of prayer is available to watch back on the RTÉ Player with a commentary from Michael Kelly, Editor of The Irish Catholic.