(Source: MJ/Vatican News)

Pope Francis has sent a message to the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE) on the occasion of their plenary assembly, taking place online from 25 to 26 September.

The theme of this virtual plenary is “The Church in Europe after the Pandemic: Perspectives for Creation and the Community”, and in his message to Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, President of the Council, Pope Francis expressed his appreciation for the subject the Bishops have chosen.

Pandemic has left its mark

The Pope wrote, “the experience of this pandemic has left a deep mark in all of us, because it dramatically affected one of the structural requirements of our existence – relations among people and in society.”

This, in turn, he went on to say, has upset customs and relationships, and has changed “the conditions of our social and economic life.”

Pope Francis acknowledged that “the very life of the Church has been significantly impacted,” adding, “we were forced to re-fashion our religious practice, and many pastoral activities have not adjusted to this new situation yet.”

Plight of elderly and young people

In his message, the Pope drew attention to “the deaths of so many elderly people [and] the tragedy of families taken aback by intense and daunting suffering.”

He also mentioned “the plight of children and young people locked up in their homes, and the suspension of religious rites and Christian formation initiatives.”

The work of priests and religious

All this, the Pope pointed out, “has led many priests and religious to look for courageous ways to provide their pastoral service, testifying to their paternal and tender proximity to the people.”

“Faced with the explosion of new forms of poverty,” the Pope stressed that  “this work of creative charity must continue, while showing an increasingly attentive and generous closeness to the weakest.”

As the pandemic shows no signs of abating, Pope Francis called on Christian communities  “to engage in a spiritual interpretation of what we have experienced, so they can learn what life can teach and discern perspectives for the future.”

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the CCEE Plenary Assembly, which was to have taken place in Prague, Czech Republic, from the 25 to 27 September, will now be held in online mode on the 25th and 26th.

A plea for hearts “to ‘see’ the wounds of society” and for “creative hands in active charity”

Pope Francis also referred to the ongoing social effects of the pandemic in an address Friday to the Circolo San Pietro charitable group and in which he called for a “fantasy of mercy” to respond to today’s needs.

“After seeing the wounds of the city in which we live, mercy invites us to have ‘imagination’ in our hands. This is what you have done in this time of the pandemic,” Pope Francis told members of the Circolo San Pietro (St. Peter’s Circle), a charity of the diocese of Rome. 

“Having accepted the challenge of responding to a concrete situation, you have been able to adapt your service to the new needs imposed by the virus,” he told members of the group, who brought him their collection for the Pope’s charity fund, ‘Peter’s Pence’.  ‎

The Circolo San Pietro was founded in Rome in 1869 by a group of young people encouraged by Blessed Pope Pius IX, who, with foresight and wisdom, entrusted them with ensuring a meal for the poor of Rome. 

“Fantasy of mercy”

In this regard, Pope Francis remembered “a little big gesture” that the young members of the Circolo made towards their elderly members during the pandemic. The youth engaged in “a round of phone calls to see if everything was going well and to give them some company.” “This,” the Pope said, “is the fantasy of mercy.”  

New needs during pandemic

Unconditional fidelity to the Church and the Roman Pontiff is the hallmark of the Circolo San Pietro, as summarised in its motto, “Prayer, Action, Sacrifice”.

During last year’s meeting with them, Pope Francis reflected on prayer.  

This time, dwelling on “action,” the Pope noted that with the need for social distancing during the pandemic, they needed to rethink concrete ways of undertaking the charitable works they normally carry out for the poor of Rome.

Apart from their usual ways of addressing the needs of others, they are now required to respond to “the urgent needs of so many families who have found themselves in financial straits overnight”. And there will be more of this, because the effects of the pandemic will be terrible, Francis warned.

Pointing out that an exceptional situation requires “a new, different response,” the Pope said “it is necessary to have a heart that knows how to ‘see’ the wounds of society, and creative hands in active charity.” “These two elements are important so that charitable action may always be fruitful.”

New forms of poverty

First of all, the Pope continued, it is urgent to identify the new forms of poverty in the city of Rome, such as material poverty, human poverty and social poverty.

He said we need to “see them with the eyes of the heart… to look at human wounds with the heart in order to ‘take to heart’ the life of the other.”

Hence, one no longer sees the other just as a “stranger in need of help but, first of all, a brother begging for love.” It is “only when we take someone to heart [that] we can respond to this expectation,” the Pope stressed.

In fact, he explained, the etymology of the Latin word for mercy, “misericordia,” means “giving heart to the miserable.”

First be touched by God’s mercy

However, the Holy Father pointed out, this is not possible unless “we allow ourselves to be touched in the first person by the power of God’s mercy.”

“The sacrament of Reconciliation is the privileged place for this experience,” he said. “In presenting our miseries to the Lord, we are enveloped by the mercy of the Father. And it is this mercy that we are called to live and give.”

While thanking the members of the Circolo San Pietro for their contribution to the Peter’s Pence fund, Pope Francis encouraged them to continue in their works of charity “with commitment and joy, always attentive and ready to respond boldly to the needs of the poor.”

He added, “Do not tire of asking this grace from the Holy Spirit in personal and community prayer.”

An audience with Polish President Andrzej Duda

Finally on Friday, Pope Francis also received the President of Poland, Andrzej Duda, in an audience.

Duda later met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Cardinal Secretary of State, accompanied by Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States.

The discussions were framed by the “context of the centenary of the birth of Saint John Paul II and the 40th anniversary of the founding of the independent autonomous trade union Solidarność [‘Solidarity’].”

Specific topics up for discussion included the mission of the Church , the “promotion of the family and the education of young people”, and international ssues including the COVID-19 crisis, “the situation in the region and security”.

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