A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Pope Francis and the Pandemic

This issue’s cover shows Jesus alone in his agony in the garden. It is a striking image of the Lord’s pain and sorrow, and also a stark symbol of the agony, pain and sorrow of each and every one of us. Jesus embodies our pain, our pain is his, and his is ours, because as the Body of Christ we are one with him.

When Pope Francis stood in St Peter’s Square on 27 March last year to pray for God’s blessing on our troubled world, he was there as a man alone, just as Jesus had been in Gethsemane.

Writing about this occasion, John L Allen Jr quoted Italy’s best-known historian, Aldo Grasso:
One day we’ll remember these sad times we’re living in with many other images: the daily count of the dead, the lines at the hospitals, the frantic challenge to an invisible enemy. But the prayer for the end of the pandemic, the solemn Urbi et Orbi blessing, the solitude of the pope, will end up as one of those decisive moments in which television captures our history, our anguish, in real time.

The wind that blew the pages of the Gospels during the funeral of John Paul II, or the helicopter ride of Pope Benedict when he resigned, both moved us, but they’re nothing in comparison to the shock of seeing the empty square surrounded by the colonnade of Bernini.

Allen went on to say,
... that night, Francis reminded me of the transcendent capacities of the papacy. For a moment, he lifted me and everyone else out of the political arena, out of the climate of fear and frustration imposed by the pandemic, and he reminded us all of the inexhaustible power of a hope rooted in faith. Even Italian friends who are anti-clerical to the core told me they wept at what they saw and heard, sensing that someone, at long last, had approached this calamity in the proper key -- not principally as an administrative or technical challenge but as a shock to the soul. Francis, that night, became the whole world’s pastor, beginning with his own flock as the Bishop of Rome and radiating out to the entire world. That evening of March 27 was haunting, evocative, unforgettable, and, in all the ways that really matter, Catholicism at its best.

Sadly, in the twelve months since, the pandemic has continued to rage. The situation in many parts of the world is even more desperate than it was a year ago. Does that mean that God has not heard our prayers? My faith tells me that God has listened to our entreaties, and my common sense tells me that leaders in many countries have been arrogant, stupid and careless, as have been many of the citizens of those countries. God-given freedom has been used selfishly and irresponsibly.

Part of what the Pope said in his address to the city of Rome and to the world on that night is as follows:

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, which stops everything as it passes by. We feel it in the air, we notice it in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost.

We’ve become aware that we’re all in the same boat, all fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and necessary, all called to remain together, all needing to comfort one another in turn.

In whatever suffering we bear, may we “comfort one another in turn.”  

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