(By Andrea Tornielli, Vatican editorial director, in Vatican News)
As Pope Francis begins the eighth year of his pontificate, humanity faces the dramatic challenge of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The powerful and universal invitation to keep focused on what is essential means this anniversary is being celebrated differently than in previous years.
As we all confront the precariousness of our existence at this difficult time, Pope Francis has chosen to accompany us with prayer, entrusting all to Mary, and celebrating daily Mass at the Casa Santa Marta.
Complete with English translation, this Mass is broadcast live throughout the world every morning.
These daily celebrations of the Eucharist by Pope Francis at the Casa Santa Marta represent one of the hallmarks of his pontificate.
Each day, the Pope becomes like a “parish priest”, preaching to small groups of the faithful, sharing with them what his meditation on the day’s Word of God has stirred in him.
A daily appointment, which has become a source of comfort to the many people who, over the past seven years, have searched for and read the synthesis of the Pope’s Casa Santa Marta homily, offered by Vatican Media.
Now, this simple and meaningful accompaniment by the Pope has become even more comforting and important, as he celebrates Mass in the chapel of his residence and offers the Eucharistic Sacrifice for the suffering and the sick, for their relatives, for doctors, nurses, volunteers, the lonely and the elderly, for prisoners and authorities.
On Ash Wednesday, before the coronavirus emergency erupted, Pope Francis said:
“We begin the Lenten Season by receiving ashes: ‘Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return’. The dust sprinkled on our heads brings us back to earth; it reminds us that we are dust and to dust we shall return.
“We are weak, frail and mortal. Centuries and millennia pass and we come and go; before the immensity of galaxies and space, we are nothing. We are dust in the universe.
“Yet we are dust loved by God. It pleased the Lord to gather that dust in His hands and to breathe into it the breath of life. We are thus a dust that is precious, destined for eternal life.
“We are the dust of the earth upon which God has poured out His heaven, the dust that contains His dreams. We are God’s hope, His treasure, and His glory”.
The Pope concluded his homily saying:
“May we allow ourselves to be reconciled, in order to live as beloved children, as forgiven and healed sinners, as wayfarers with Him at our side.
“Let us allow ourselves to be loved, so that we can give love in return. Let us allow ourselves to stand up and walk towards Easter. Then we will experience the joy of discovering how God raises us up from our ashes”.
Pope Francis is leading us by accompanying us.
At the beginning of the Mass at Santa Marta on Tuesday 10 March, he prayed for priests, especially: that during this time they may have the strength to accompany, comfort and be close to those who suffer.
While taking all possible precautions, the Pope said priests should have “the courage to go out and visit the sick, bringing the strength of the Word of God and the Eucharist”, as they accompany healthcare workers, volunteers, and all those assisting people afflicted with the coronavirus.