(Source: CD/Vatican News)

In a message Thursday addressed to his “brother priests,” Pope Francis thanked the Episcopal Conference of Lombardy, in Italy, which for six years has organised a Day of Prayer and Fraternity with elderly and sick clergy.

“It is beautiful,” Pope Francis said, that attention is shown to those priests who are physically more fragile.

The pontiff expressed his delight that elderly and sick priests were able to travel with their bishops to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Caravaggio, despite restrictions due to the coronavirus.

The shrine is located in the Lombardy region and is dedicated to Our Lady of the Fountain.

Frail clergy “a living memory to draw from in order to build the Church’s tomorrow”

In his message, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude to his “dear confreres” for their witness of faithful love to God and the Church.

“Thank you,” he wrote, “for the silent proclamation of the Gospel of life. Thank you because you are a living memory to draw from in order to build the Church’s tomorrow.”

The Pope noted that in recent months, many people have experienced a number of restrictions due to the pandemic.

“The days, spent in a limited space, seemed endless and always the same,” he noted.

The Pope went on to say: “We felt the lack of affection from those dear to us, as well as friends; the fear of contagion reminded us of our own vulnerability.”

He also pointed out that many priests got to experience, with the pandemic, what their elderly brothers are encountering on a daily basis.

May the pandemic heal us “from the virus of self-sufficiency”

Pope Francis expressed his hope “that this period will help us to understand that, much more than occupying space, it is necessary not to waste the time that is given to us; that it will help us to enjoy the beauty of the encounter with the other, to heal from the virus of self-sufficiency.”

“Let us not forget this lesson,” the pontiff said.

Quoting from scripture, the Pope wrote: “Also in our priestly life, fragility can be ‘like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap’ (Mal 3:2), which, raising us up to God, refines and sanctifies us.”

“We are not afraid of suffering: The Lord carries the cross with us.”

Concluding his message, the Pope entrusted sick and elderly priests to the Virgin Mary and said he was remembering in prayer the many priests who have died because of the virus along with those who are facing the path of rehabilitation.

More papal messages, on Novena:

Pope urges doctors, hospitals to put care for patients above financial concerns

Francis urges “ecological retooling” of economy to counter “inhuman” pace of production, consumption

Francis reminds humanity on Day of Prayer for Creation: “We are part of this interconnected web of life, not its masters”

Pope decries multinationals’ “outrageous… plundering” of natural resources: “We have to take care of Creation responsibly. Today”

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.