Pope Francis on Sunday called for all Christians to respond to the coronavirus pandemic “with the universality of prayer, of compassion, of tenderness”, adding,
“Let us remain united. Let us make our closeness felt toward those persons who are the most lonely and tried”.
Speaking after the traditional recitation of the Angelus, the Holy Father called on all Christians to join together in prayer.
“In these trying days, while humanity trembles due to the threat of the pandemic, I would like to propose to all Christians that together we lift our voices towards Heaven”, he said.
The “Our Father” on the Annunciation
On Wednesday, 25 March, the feast of the Annunciation, he has invited “the Heads of the Churches and the leaders of every Christian community, together with all Christians of the various confessions, to invoke the Almighty, the omnipotent God, to recite at the same time the prayer that Jesus, our Lord, taught us” – the Our Father.
“On that day on which many Christians recall the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary of the Incarnation of the Word”, Pope Francis prayed, “may the Lord listen to the united prayer of all of His disciples who are preparing themselves to celebrate the victory of the Risen Christ”.
A special Urbi et orbi blessing
The Pope also announced that on the following Friday, 27 March, he will preside over a moment of prayer on the sagrato of St Peter’s Basilica, the platform at the top of the steps immediately in front of the façade of the Church.
“I invite everyone to participate spiritually through the means of communication”, he said.
The ceremony will consist in readings from the Scriptures, prayers of supplication, and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; and will conclude with Pope Francis giving the Urbi et orbi Blessing, with the possibility of gaining a plenary indulgence for all those who listen to it live through the various forms of communication.
The blessing “to the City [of Rome] and to the World” is normally only given on Christmas and Easter.
The Director of the Holy See Press Office confirmed that the moment of prayer on Friday will be broadcast live from the Vatican, beginning at 6 pm Rome time.
He noted that the plenary indulgence attached to the Urbi et orbi blessing is subject to the conditions foreseen by the recent Decree of the Apostolic Penitentiary.
Prayers for Croatia
At the close of his remarks following the Angelus, Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the people of Croatia, which was struck by magnitude 5.4 earthquake Sunday morning.
The Holy Father prayed, “May the Risen Lord give them the strength and solidarity to face this calamity”.
The Pope’s catechesis: Jesus’ wonder are not “spectacular gestures”
In the meantime, and before reciting the Angelus prayer Sunday, the Pope reflected on the theme of light and the gift of faith.
“It is not enough to receive light”, said Pope Francis. We need to “become light… in order to manifest it with our whole life”.
The Light of the world
Francis was reflecting on the liturgical readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent.
St John’s Gospel recounts the episode of the man born blind to whom Jesus gives sight. “The theme of light”, said the Pope, is “at the centre” of this Sunday’s liturgy.
The miracle Jesus performs confirms His affirmation that He is “the light of the world”, said Pope Francis: He is “the light that brightens our darkness”.
This applies to both the “physical level and the spiritual level”, the Pope continued.
The blind person first receives the gift of physical sight, and then the spiritual gift of faith in Jesus.
The wonders Jesus performs are not “spectacular gestures” said Pope Francis, they lead to faith “through a journey of inner transformation”.
The light of faith
“The Pharisees and doctors of the law refuse to acknowledge the miracle”, continued the Pope. They interrogate the healed man. But he confuses them with a simple statement of fact: “I was blind and now I see”.
Gradually, he comes to realize “the identity of the one who opened his eyes”, and confesses his faith in Him.
The healed man recognizes Jesus “as one who comes from God”. He welcomes Jesus “as the Messiah, and prostrates himself before Him”.
Seeing life in a new light
“May we too can have this experience!”, said Pope Francis. “With the light of faith, he who was blind discovers his new identity”.
He sees his life and the world around him in a new light, and is “no longer a slave to blindness and prejudice”.
The blind man’s path of enlightenment “is a metaphor for the path of liberation from sin to which we are called”, said the Pope.
“Sin is like a dark veil that covers our face and prevents us from clearly seeing ourselves and the world”. God’s mercy removes the “shadows and darkness”, and gives us new light, he added.
The blind man who is healed now sees “with both the eyes of the body and those of the soul”, said Pope Francis.
“But it is not enough to receive light, one must become light”, added the Pope. “Each one of us is called to receive the divine light in order to manifest it with our whole life”.
“May Mary Most Holy help us to imitate the blind man of the Gospel”, concluded the Pope, “so that we can be flooded with the light of Christ, and set out with Him on the way of salvation”.
Prayers in the Santa Marta Mass for lonely dying and their families
Earlier on Sunday, finally, Francis also reflected on the healing of the blind man at the Casa Santa Marta during the Mass he celebrated on Sunday morning for those who are dying alone.
“In these days we’re hearing the news of so many people who are dying…dying alone, without being able to say goodbye to their loved ones”.
These were the words with which Pope Francis began his Mass.
“Let’s think about them and pray for them. For families as well, who cannot accompany their loved ones on that journey. We pray in a special way for the dying and for their families.”
Jesus passes by
Pope Francis began his homily saying the 9th Chapter of John “speaks for itself”. It’s a “proclamation of Jesus Christ”, and a “catechesis”, he said.
The rest of his homily was a reflection on the words of St Augustine which the Pope said “always touch” him: “I am afraid when the Lord passes by because I am afraid that He will pass and I might not notice Him”.
“One thing is true. In Jesus’ presence, the true sentiments of the heart come forth. Our true attitudes come out. This is a grace. Because of this St Augustine was afraid to let Him pass by without realizing it.”
Jesus brings out the best
When Jesus passes by, He heals the blind man and creates a “scandal”.
“It brings out both the best and the worst in people”, the Pope continued. This brought out the best in the blind man.
“The blind man’s wisdom in how he responds is astonishing. He was used to moving around with his hands. He could sniff danger. He sensed anything that was dangerous and might make him slip. He moved around like a blind person. His arguments are clear and precise. He even uses irony.”
Jesus brings out the worst
This scandal, instead, brought out the worst in the doctors of the law.
“They knew all of the laws, every single one of them. But they were fixated there. They didn’t understand when God was passing by.
“They were rigid, attached to their customs.
“Jesus Himself says so in the Gospel…. And so, in order to preserve these customs, committing an injustice wasn’t a problem because their customs said that [what Jesus had done] was not just.
“That rigidity led them to commit an injustice. Jesus’ presence evoked the sentiment of closure”.
Pick up the 9th chapter of John
Pope Francis concluded his homily with the invitation to “pick up the Gospel today… and read it calmly at home, one or two times, in order to really understand what happens when Jesus passes by.”
“May it provoke our sentiments to come out so we might understand well what Saint Augustine tells us, ‘I’m afraid when the Lord passes, because He might pass by and I may not recognize it and convert myself.’”
(With reporting by Christopher Wells, Vatican News)