Saturday, March 28, 2020

The World is His Parish

The streets of Rome are empty these days.

Italians are doing their best to persevere against the COVID-19 epidemic, spending most of March quarantined in their homes. Similar measures are being taken in many parts of the world. Public gatherings are canceled. Gatherings for religious services have been curtailed or suspended on their own initiative.

The Catholic Church in Italy (and many other places, including dioceses in the USA) has gone beyond dispensing people from their Sunday Mass obligation. Masses are not even being offered with large public congregations. Priests still offer Mass every day, but in empty churches... or, at least, churches without physically present parishioners. What they have are videocameras that bring livestreamimg Masses to unprecedented numbers of "virtual participants," who unite themselves in spirit and heart with Christ's Paschal Mystery which remains the center of the Church's life through the ministerial priesthood.

One 83-year-old priest has a worldwide congregation as he says Mass every morning with his small staff in the chapel at his residence in Rome. Pope Francis from his own place of quarantine is proving more than ever to be the world's pastor. In addition to his daily Masses and Wednesday Audiences, the Pope has led several gestures of prayer for an end to the pandemic. Yesterday's event was especially moving.

With the world "connected" through Vatican Media, Pope Francis preached in an empty St Peter's Square, venerated a large crucifix, prayed to the Virgin Mary,  and then held adoration and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament with a special blessing "Urbi et Orbi" (usually given only at Christmas and Easter), "to the 'city' (of Rome) and the world."

At the beginning of this service, the Pope was seen walking through the middle of the large square, alone, with rain pouring down on him. By the end he was visibly limping, no doubt from the sciatica that pains him, as he carried the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament.

I am so grateful for this 83-year-old man, with part of one lung missing, who is in the highest of the "high-risk categories" for dying if he were to be infected by the coronavirus. His courage is not a surprise: Francis has never made any effort to preserve his life. Since becoming Pope, he has seemed continually ready to offer it.

Now his witness grows greater. In this singular crisis, he is pouring out his life for his flock, and to make the closeness and tenderness of Jesus known to all the world.

It gives great authority to his words, which are worth pondering in their entirety, and so I present them here from Vatican News (below or click this LINK to Vatican News website):