“An emergency like COVID-19 is fought especially with the antibodies of solidarity”, a Vatican official has insisted, as the famous Marian shrine of Lourdes in France was forced to shutter for the first time in its history.

– President of Pontifical Academy for Life: “Technical and clinical measures must be integrated with common good”

“The technical and clinical measures for containment must be integrated with a vast and profound complicity for the common good, avoiding the tendency to choose advantages for the privileged to the detriment of the vulnerable based on citizenship, income, politics or age”, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said in a note posted on the Academy website March 17.

As well as expressing Paglia’s “closeness… to those who are suffering and to worried about the future because of the pandemic”, the Academy revealed in its statement today that it is working on a document entitled “Coronavirus and Human Fraternity”, and that much with the aim of finding “meaning in this time caught between worry and quarantine”.

At the present time, Paglia warned, “no government, no society, no type of scientific community can consider itself self-referential”.

The President of the Pontifical Academy for Life in that sense regretted the contradictory positions of both Europe and other political and social entities in the face of the coronavirus crisis.

“On the one hand, there are signs of collaboration, but on the other hand, unfortunately, others appear in the opposite direction.

“It would be important for government decisions to be made in a coordinated manner. It is urgent, I would say indispensable, a roundtable [of dialogue]”.

– “We are making sacrifices for ourselves and others”

Paglia added that in order to halt the spread of the pandemic, it is important to see one’s neighbour as an ally in the fight, “otherwise the community evaporates and I, too, am lost”.

“The ‘other’ is the person who walks by and greets me from a metre away because he is safeguarding me and himself,” the archbishop said.

“I, too, am staying home and respecting the indications of health care officials, acting for the common good to ensure that all of us together can get out of this emergency as soon as possible”.

The President of the Pontifical Academy for Life had more advice for the world’s citizens suffering through coronavirus restrictions and fears, which he said hold a deeper potential meaning at this “crucial” juncture in history.

“Let’s not forget the experience of these difficult weeks and the profound meaning of limitations on our movements: We are making sacrifices for ourselves and others”, Paglia urged.

– Opportunity to strengthen “social logic of mutual help”

On the other hand, the Vatican prelate insisted that the coronavirus crisis can and must lead to a “strengthening of the social logic of mutual help”.

“The world is interconnected, and the sooner we understand that, the sooner we will be a true global community”, Paglia explained.

“The sacrifices we are making point us to the path of solidarity and brotherhood among all human beings without distinction.”

Furthermore, we must prepare and transform “our resilience into a momentous opportunity that persuades us, once and for all, of the need to let go of an individualistic lifestyle, inhospitable and unaffected by the very ties that bind: emotional, economic, political and institutional”, Paglia continued.

The President of the Pontifical Academy for Life also criticised sharply those who resign themselves to the fact that older people will die from Covid-19 with what he called their “delusional” ideas about there being a section of society that can be “discarded”.

“Dignity is ageless”, Paglia insisted, also expressing his support for the continued opening of churches during the virus outbreak.

Closing churches at this time even for private prayer “would be like closing pharmacies and hospitals. Of course, all established norms must be rigorously respected, perhaps also with timetables”, Paglia explained, adding that the fact that churches continue to open their doors can be a “sign that the beyond is open, not closed”.

– Lourdes shrine in France shutters for first time in history

In other coronavirus-related news today, and for the first time since it opened, the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France will temporarily close its gates from midday today, March 17.

This closure is in adherence to the measures taken by the French government to curtail the spread of coronavirus in the country.

France presently has over 6,500 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection.

The Shrine’s website had already announced on 28 February that “as a precaution, the pools have been closed until further notice”.

The Rector of the Shrine, Olivier Ribadeau Dumas made the announcement of the closure through a message published on Twitter.

“For the first time in its history, the shrine will close its doors for some time,” he announced.

Prior to this announcement, in an interview after a meeting with Jean-Baptist Lemoyne, the Secretary of State for tourism on 12 March, Dumas insisted that the shrine will remain “a place of prayer” in spite of the trying times. He also invited the faithful to continue to send in their prayer intentions.

In spite of the temporary closure, the shrine’s 30 chaplains will begin today a special novena to Our Lady to pray for the world. It will be broadcast live from the grotto of the apparition. Prayers offered at the shrine can be accessed via the live Lourdes TV page on the shrine website.

In 1858, the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous (1844 – 1879) in Lourdes, France, in eighteen separate apparitions. The site was quickly recognized as a holy place of prayer and healing.

Today, it attracts roughly 6 million pilgrims annually.

Pope Benedict visited Lourdes in September 2008 on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the apparitions. Just 4 year before that, his predecessor, Pope Saint John Paul II visited the Shrine, during the last year of his life.

(With reporting by Vatican News)

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17/3: In Santa Marta Mass, Francis remembers elderly “suffering” in virus crisis, speaks too of “God’s sickness”

Refugees in France, Greece at special risk of coronavirus as pandemic sweeps all through Europe to Russia

Papal almoner urges solidarity with less fortunate in virus pandemic: “Don’t ignore the poor Lazarus who knocks at your door”

“Heretical” Polish archbishop downplays risk of COVID-19: “Christ does not spread germs and viruses”

From 350 faithful to one: empty Warsaw village parish Sunday Mass typical of churches around Poland as coronavirus bites

16/3: Santa Marta Mass: Pope hopes virus crisis leads to “new expressions of love”

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15/3: Pope makes Rome “pilgrimage” for end to coronavirus “plague”, “consolation and comfort” of victims, healthcare workers

15/3: Angelus: Pope offers hope to coronavirus quarantined: “United to Christ we are never alone”

15/3: Francis praises in Santa Marta Mass those working to guarantee public services amid coronavirus crisis

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