The Pope Confronts Coronavirus as the World Waits and Listens

Sunday service.

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The scenography made for a melodrama: Pope Francis in prayer, alone, in a deserted St. Peter’s Square. The sound of the rain, the ringing of the bells, as the pontiff, robed in white, celebrated the Urbi et Orbi blessing—his face tried by fatigue with a message of hope in his heart.

Italy in lockdown tuned in to the 18h00 broadcast on March 27. The images have travelled the world. Urns illuminated the square that is embraced by Bernini’s colonnade while the Salus Populi Romani, the Byzantine icon of the Virgin Mary preserved in Santa Maria Maggiore, and the Crucifix of San Marcello, object of the Romans’ veneration during the plague of the 16th century, were the only other elements present. “For weeks now it has been evening,” said the 83-year-old Pope. “Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets, and our cities; it is has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void.”

The pontiff’s message was intended for believers and otherwise. Coronavirus knows no religion. “We find ourselves afraid,” the pope added. “And lost.”

We are living in a motionless time. An empty St. Peter’s Square makes for a grand stage, while the empty streets of Italy make the sound of sirens all the more pronounced. The empty streets in Bergamo, the epicentre of the COVID-19 crisis, make the cavalcade of military trucks transporting the dead even more haunting. The empty streets, to some, look like the end of the world.

But what we are seeing in that negative space, in that emptiness, is how much we do care for each other. For our grandparents, for our immunocompromised brothers and sisters, for people we will never meet. People will lose their jobs over this. Some will lose their business. And many will lose their lives. All the more reason to take a moment when you are on your way to the supermarket, or just watching the news, to look into the emptiness and marvel at all of that love. This isn’t the end of the world. It is a remarkable act of global solidarity.

In Italy we are entering the fourth week of lockdown (we aren’t hiking or biking or taking walks; we aren’t even permitted to walk around the block), and the daily death total has been trending just shy of 1,000. There are good days, and there are not-so-good days. We have gotten into a routine of cooking and eating, cooking and eating, and more cooking and eating (this is Italy). I draw rainbows of hope with the children and hang them from our windows; we have dance parties that include dancing on the kitchen table; I pick up groceries for our neighbours. The more time our family of four spends together, the less time we spend bickering.

“We are on the same boat,” pope Francis proclaimed from the stairs of St. Peter’s Basilica. “On this boat… are all of us.” There were 1,220 births in Italy today.

The full address with English translation can be viewed here.

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March 29, 2020