The Portuguese Bishops’ president has denounced “populist, self-serving and selfish” economic and political profiteering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

– “Let us not allow the weakest to be forgotten in their difficulties”

“During this pandemic, along with the most heroic selflessness and generosity of so many people, many powerful and manipulative populist, self-serving and selfish attitudes have also shown themselves, unremorseful in using suffering, bewilderment [and] confusion to draw political and economic dividends, even creating conflicts”, Bishop José Ornelas of Setúbal diocese decried in a reflection in Fátima for a vigil early this October 13.

But in an echo of Pope Francis in his new encyclical Fratelli tutti, Ornelas called for changes in our social and economic organisation such that “the overcoming of this crisis may benefit everyone” in a new “more solidary and fraternal” humanity.

“It is possible and necessary that we collaborate such that, from this crossing of the desert of the pandemic, a humanity can be born that inhabits a land that is a common home, that is, a land for all”, the bishop appealed.

“Let us not allow the weakest to be forgotten in their difficulties. Let us grow in solidarity, in creativity, in the search for new ways for a new world, with the many problems but also with the many opportunities that lie ahead”, Ornelas encouraged the faithful.

– Gratitude for heroes “making incredible efforts, in dramatic conditions, to help the people affected by the pandemic”

The Fátima vigil October 13 was held to commemorate the 103rd anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun, when a large crowd of onlookers reportedly witnessed strange solar activity.

Catholics interpreted the unusual rainbows and movements of the sun as miracles and as confirmation that the Virgin Mary had really appeared to three small shepherds – Lúcia Santos and Francisco and Jacinta Marto – and had told them ‘secrets’ regarding hell, World Wars I and II and the persecution of Christians.

But fewer people – some 4,500 faithful along with 51 priests and nine bishops – attended the famous vigil this year due to the pandemic situation, and Ornelas alluded to that fact in his sermon.

“The current containment of pilgrims’ presence in the shrine in this October pilgrimage is also a clear sign of the limitations and constraints that the world is currently facing, with the harmful consequences that we all know and that above all affect the most fragile”, the bishop acknowledged.

But despite the difficulties and restrictions, Ornelas offered the example of those who selflessly dedicate themselves to their neighbours “despite the difficulties and resistance they encounter” as a model of the solidarity that the world needs right now.

“Let us think, for example, of those who are making incredible efforts, in dramatic conditions, to help the people affected by the pandemic – in hospitals, in residences, in homes where people live in solitude, in inhospitable refugee camps – in the search for solutions for all and not only for some”, the bishop urged.

Ornelas also offered to pilgrims and to the world at this time the example of Mary as “the image of closeness to the one who was unjustly rejected, slandered, condemned and executed”, and as an image of “maternal care for the weakest and the discarded and of courage to share the fate of the condemned, the excluded and the bothersome”.

“Jesus wants the Church… to take on Mary’s attitude: in fidelity to God and his covenant with Israel throughout history; in fidelity to the suffering, excluded and condemned; in mercy to welcome without fear the scandal of pain, injustice, exclusion” and helping to “find ways to overcome crises and even death”, Ornelas insisted.

The bishop concluded his sermon with a prayer for the intercession of the little shepherd saints.

“May they help us to be… guided by the hand of the Mother of Heaven, by the hand of the Mother of the Church, so that we can overcome the present difficulties and collaborate in building a more just and supportive world, open to the greatness and merciful love of the Father in heaven”, Ornelas prayed.

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