The extraordinary urbi et orbi prayer service in a desolate St. Peter’s Square on March 27 was the finest hour to date of Pope Francis’ seven-year pontificate.
In a moment of global crisis, with the Church physically separated from its people and the people from their Church, Pope Francis blessed the city of Rome and the world with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. It was a solemn and powerful reminder of Christ’s unending presence and his undying love for us, his suffering people. And it was exactly what we — the Church and the world — needed as we continue to face the coronavirus pandemic.
With millions of people livestreaming the event from around the world, Pope Francis led a prayer service that included a Scripture reading, a meditation, veneration of the cross and Eucharistic adoration. It ended with benediction overlooking a vacant St. Peter’s Square — what will be an iconic image from this time — and the monstrance held high as bells pealed loudly from above.
It was a time of quiet reflection and prayer, and a chance to lay our anxieties and fears of the unknown at the feet of Christ. In him, we were reminded, we need only to put all our trust.
Want more coverage on coronavirus from a perspective of faith? Sign up for our daily newsletter.
“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,” Pope Francis said. “This Lent your call reverberates urgently: ‘Be converted!’, ‘Return to me with all your heart (Jl 2:12).”
He continued: “You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgment, but of our judgment: 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.”
This time of crisis can also be a time of opportunity, Pope Francis was reminding us — one during which we can and should reflect on and reevaluate our priorities. We are being encouraged to ask, in all honesty: Where have we allowed ourselves to go adrift from the Lord?
“The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities,” the pope said. “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.”
During this challenging time, Pope Francis also reminds us that, even though we may be physically isolated from one another, we can’t survive without relying on one another.
“We find ourselves afraid and lost,” Pope Francis said. “Like the disciples in the Gospel, we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized 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.”
Indeed, our need for community, even when community seems impossible, is manifesting itself in various creative ways around the world: in Italians singing from their balconies; in cars of teachers parading through the neighborhoods of their students; in young people sewing masks and delivering care packages to the elderly; in friends and family members holding “happy birthday” signs outside the houses of loved ones; in homemade stained-glass windows; and in the many, many prayers that we are all offering for one another.
In the words of Pope Francis: “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.”
The world is in a collective time of trial right now, and our response dictates how it will turn out. Will we trust in God, loving him and one another? This is what Our Lord calls us to — and what Pope Francis urged us toward as he held Jesus as high as he could before an empty St. Peter’s square.
Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young