“I asked the Lord to stop the epidemic: Lord, stop it with your hand.”
This is what Pope Francis responded when asked what he prayed for two days ago, when he ventured to Rome’s Center, making a pilgrimage on foot from Rome’s Marian Basilica, Santa Maria Maggiore, to the Church of San Marcello al Corso, where there is a miraculous cross.
“This is what I prayed for,” Francis told Paolo Rodari.
“During these difficult days,” the Holy Father reflected in the interview, “we can find small, concrete gestures expressing closeness and concreteness towards the people closest to us.”
These include, he underscored, “a caress for our grandparents, a kiss for our children, for the people we love,” and are “important, decisive gestures.”
“If we live these days like this,” the Holy Father said, “they won’t be wasted.”
In the Vatican, Pope Francis is following closely the news on the coronavirus emergency, and this interview focused on what these days, in the midst of a locked down Italy over contagion concerns, are teaching the Pope himself.
Asked how can one live these days so that they are not wasted, the Pope underscored: “We must rediscover the concreteness of little things, small gestures of attention we can offer those close to us, our family, our friends. We must understand that in small things lies our treasure.
“These gestures of tenderness, affection, compassion, are minimal and tend to be lost in the anonymity of everyday life, but they are nonetheless decisive, important.”
When the journalist asked isn’t this how we already live, the Pope lamented that often individuals, even among loved ones, “experience a virtual form of communication” with one another.
He called on families to discover a new closeness, and have more concrete relationships made of attention and patience.
“In their homes, families often eat together in great silence, but not as a result of listening to each other, rather because the parents watch television while they eat, and children are on their mobile phones,” Francis said, noting: “They look like monks, all isolated from each other.”
Here, he criticized, there is no communication. Listening to each other, he said, is important because that’s how we can understand the needs, efforts, desires of the other.
“This language made of concrete gestures must be safeguarded,” Francis appealed, stating: “In my opinion, the pain of these days should open us up to this concreteness”.
When asked what he says to the many people who have lost loved ones, and to the many others fighting on the front line to save lives, Francis thanked those who give themselves in this way to others.
“They are an example of this concreteness,” he said, adding: “And I ask everyone to stay close to those who have lost loved ones, to be close to them in every possible way. Consolation must now be everyone’s commitment.”
Francis underscored how our behavior always affects the lives of others.
The last question of the interview asked the Pontiff how those who do not have faith have hope in days like these.
“They are all God’s children and are looked upon by Him,” Francis said, “Even those who have not yet met God, those who do not have the gift of faith, can find their way through this, in the good things they believe in: they can find strength in love for their children, for their family, for their brothers and sisters.
“One can say: ‘I cannot pray because I do not believe,’” Francis said, adding: “But at the same time, however, he can believe in the love of the people around him, and thus find hope.”