Pope Francis on May e30, 2020, wrote a letter to the Priests of Rome, saying he looks forward to the next phase of efforts to respond to the new situation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Holy Father said he had hoped to meet with Rome’s priest at the Chrism Mass, which normally takes place each year on Holy Thursday. Due to the coronavirus emergency, however, this year’s Chrism Mass has been postponed, reported Vatican News.
Below is a working translation of the Pope’s letter provided by the Vatican.
In this Easter time, I thought I would meet you and that we would celebrate Chrism Mass together. Since a celebration of a diocesan nature is not possible, I am writing this letter to you. The new phase we are beginning asks us for wisdom, foresight, and common commitment so that all the efforts and sacrifices made so far will not be in vain.
During this time of pandemic, many of you have shared with me, by e-mail or telephone, what this unexpected and disconcerting situation has implied. Thus, without being able to go out or have direct contact, you allowed me to know “first-hand” what you were experiencing. This sharing has nourished my prayer, in many cases to give thanks for the courageous and generous witness I have received from you; in others, it was the supplication and trusting intercession in the Lord who always extends His hand to us (see Mt 14:31). Although it was necessary to maintain social distancing, this did not prevent us from strengthening the sense of belonging, fellowship and mission which helped us to ensure that charity, especially with the most disadvantaged people and communities, was not quarantined. I was able to see, in those sincere dialogues, that the necessary distance was not synonymous with withdrawal or isolation of the self that anesthetizes, sedates, and extinguishes the mission.
Encouraged by these exchanges, I am writing to you because I want to be closer to you, in order to accompany, share and confirm your journey. Hope also depends on us and requires that we help each other to keep it alive and active; that contagious hope that is cultivated and strengthened in the encounter with others and that, as a gift and a task, is given to us to construct the new “normality” that we so desire. I write to you looking at the first apostolic community, which also lived through moments of confinement, isolation, fear, and uncertainty. Fifty days passed between immobility, closure, and the incipient announcement that would change their lives forever. The disciples, while the doors of the place where they stayed were closed out of fear, were surprised by Jesus who “stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’. After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you’. And with that, He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (Jn 20: 19-22). May we too let ourselves be surprised!
“When the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear” (Jn 20: 19)
Today, like yesterday, we feel that “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts” (Gaudium et Spes, 1). How well we know all this! We have all listened to the numbers and percentages that day after day assailed us; we have touched with our own hands the pain of our people. What came to us was not distant from us: the statistics had names, faces, shared stories. As a priestly community, we were not strangers to this reality and we did not look at it from the window; drenched in the storm that raged, you made an effort to be present and accompany your communities: you saw the wolf coming and did not flee or abandon the flock (see Jn 10: 12-13).
We have suffered the sudden loss of family, neighbors, friends, parishioners, confessors, points of reference of our faith. We saw the disconsolate faces of those who could not stay close and say goodbye to their loved ones in their last hours. We have seen the suffering and helplessness of the health workers who, exhausted, spent themselves in endless days of work, worried about having to respond to so many requests. We have all felt the insecurity and fear of workers and volunteers who exposed themselves to risk on a daily basis to ensure that essential services were provided; and also to accompany and care for those who, because of their exclusion and vulnerability, were suffering even more from the consequences of this pandemic. We have heard and seen the difficulties and discomforts of social confinement: loneliness and isolation, especially of the elderly; anxiety, anguish, and a sense of a lack of protection in the face of job and housing uncertainty; violence in and pressure on relationships. The ancestral fear of contagion has once again struck hard. We have also shared the distressing concerns of entire families who do not know what to put on their plates the following week.
We have experienced our own vulnerability and helplessness. Just as the kiln tests the potter’s vases, so we were put to the test (see Sirach 27: 5). Distraught by all that was happening, we felt in an amplified way the precariousness of our lives and apostolic commitments. The unpredictability of the situation highlighted our inability to live with and face the unknown, which we cannot govern or control, and like everyone else, we felt confused, frightened, helpless. We also experience that healthy and necessary anger that urges us not to drop our arms in the face of injustice and reminds us that we have been created for Life. Like Nicodemus, at night, surprised because “the wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit”, we asked ourselves, “How can this happen?” and Jesus answered, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this?” (see Jn 3: 8-10).
The complexity of what had to be faced did not allow for “recipes” or textbook answers; it required much more than easy exhortations or edifying speeches, incapable of taking root and consciously taking on everything that concrete life demanded of us. The pain of our people hurt us, their uncertainties afflicted us, our common fragility stripped us of any false idealistic or spiritualistic complacency, as well as any attempt at puritanical escape. No one is extraneous to everything that is happening. We might say that we lived communally the hour of the Lord’s weeping: we wept before the tomb of our friend Lazarus (see Jn 11: 35), before the confinement of His people (Lk 13: 14; 19:41), in the dark night of Gethsemane (see Mk 14: 32-42; Lk 22: 44). It is also the hour of the disciple’s weeping before the mystery of the Cross and of the evil which affects so many innocent people. It is Peter’s bitter cry after his denial (see Lk 22: 62); that of Mary Magdalene before the tomb (see Jn 20: 11).
We know that in such circumstances it is not easy to find the way forward, and neither will there be a lack of voices that will say everything that could have been done in the face of this unknown reality. Our usual ways of relating, organizing, celebrating, praying, summoning and even dealing with conflicts have been changed and challenged by an invisible presence that has turned our everyday life into adversity. It is not just a matter of an individual, a family, a particular social group or a country. The characteristics of the virus make the logic with which we were used to divide or classify reality disappear. The pandemic knows no adjectives, no boundaries, and no one can think of getting by alone. We are all affected and involved.
The narrative of a society of prophylaxis, imperturbable and always ready for indefinite consumption has been questioned, revealing the lack of cultural and spiritual immunity to conflict. A series of old and new questions and problems (which many regions considered outdated, things of the past) dominated the horizon, and our attention. Questions which will not be answered simply by the reopening of various activities; rather, it will be indispensable to develop a way of listening which is attentive but full of hope, serene but tenacious, constant but not anxious, which can prepare and pave the way for the Lord’s call to us (see Mk 1: 2-3). We know that from tribulation and painful experiences we do not emerge the same as we were before. We must be vigilant and attentive. The Lord Himself, in His crucial hour, prayed for this: “I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one” (Jn 17: 15). Personally and communally exposed, and affected in our vulnerability and frailty and in our limitations, we run the serious risk of withdrawing and of “brooding” over the desolation that the pandemic presents to us, as well as of exasperating ourselves into unlimited optimism, incapable of accepting the true extent of events (see Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 226-228). The hours of tribulation call into question our capacity for discernment to discover what temptations threaten to trap us in an atmosphere of bewilderment and confusion, only to fall into a havoc that will prevent our communities from promoting the new life that the Risen Lord wants to give us. There are many temptations, typical of this time, that can blind us and make us cultivate certain feelings and attitudes that do not allow hope to stimulate our creativity, our ingenuity and our ability to respond. From wanting to honestly take on board the gravity of the situation, but trying to resolve it only with substitute or palliative activities, waiting for everything to return to “normal”, ignoring the deep wounds and the number of people who have fallen in the meantime; until we are immersed in a certain paralyzing nostalgia for the recent past that makes us say “nothing will ever be the same again” and makes us incapable of inviting others to dream of and develop new ways and styles of life.
“Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’. When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you!’” (Jn 20: 19-21)
The Lord did not choose or seek an ideal situation to irrupt into the lives of His disciples. Certainly we would have preferred that all this had not happened, but it did happen; and like the disciples of Emmaus, we can also continue to murmur sadly along the way (see Lk 24: 13-21). By appearing in the Upper Room behind closed doors, amid the isolation, fear and insecurity in which they lived, the Lord was able to transform all logic and give new meaning to history and events. Any time is suitable for the proclamation of peace; no circumstance is without His grace. His presence in the midst of confinement and forced absences announces, for the disciples of the past as for us today, a new day capable of questioning immobility and resignation and of mobilizing all gifts in the service of the community. With His presence, confinement became fruitful, giving life to the new apostolic community.
Let us say it with confidence and without fear: “Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more” (Rm 5: 20). Let us not fear the complex scenarios we inhabit because the Lord is there, in our midst; God has always performed the miracle of producing good fruits (see Jn 15: 5). Christian joy is born precisely from this certainty. In the midst of the contradictions and the incomprehensible things we have to face every day, overwhelmed and even dazed by so many words and connections, there is the voice of the Risen One who says to us: “Peace be with you!”
It is comforting to take the Gospel and contemplate Jesus in the midst of His people, as He welcomes and embraces life and people as they present themselves. His gestures give form to Mary’s beautiful song: “He has shown might with His arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rules from their thrones but lifted up the lowly” (Lk 1: 51-52). He Himself offered His hands and His wounded side as a way of resurrection. He neither hides nor conceals His wounds; on the contrary, He invites Thomas to touch with his hands how a wounded side can be the source of Life in abundance (see Jn 20: 27-29).
On repeated occasions, as a spiritual companion, I have been able to witness that “a person who sees things as they truly are and sympathizes with pain and sorrow is capable of touching life’s depths and finding authentic happiness. He or she is consoled, not by the world but by Jesus. Such persons are unafraid to share in the suffering of others; they do not flee from painful situations. They discover the meaning of life by coming to the aid of those who suffer, understanding their anguish and bringing relief. They sense that the other is flesh of our flesh, and are not afraid to draw near, even to touch their wounds. They feel compassion for others in such a way that all distance vanishes. In this way they can embrace Saint Paul’s exhortation: ‘Weep with those who weep’ (Rm 12: 15). Knowing how to mourn with others: that is holiness” (Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et exsultate, 76).
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20: 21-22)”
Dear brothers, as a priestly community we are called to announce and prophesy the future, like the sentinel announcing the dawn that brings a new day (see Is 21: 11): either it will be something new, or it will be more, much more and worse than usual. The Resurrection is not only a historical event of the past to be remembered and celebrated; it is more, much more: it is the announcement of the salvation of a new time that resounds and already breaks out today: “Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Is 43: 19); it is the future that the Lord calls us to build. Faith allows us a realistic and creative imagination, capable of abandoning the logic of repetition, replacement or preservation; it invites us to establish an ever new time: the time of the Lord. If an invisible, silent, expansive and viral presence has put us in crisis and caused us upheaval, let this other discreet, respectful and non-invasive Presence call us again and teach us not to be afraid to face reality. If an impalpable presence has been able to disrupt and overturn the priorities and seemingly irremovable global agendas that so suffocate and devastate our communities and our sister earth, let us not fear that it is the presence of the Risen One that traces our path, opens horizons and gives us the courage to live this historic and unique moment. A handful of fearful men have been able to initiate a new current, a living proclamation of God with us. Do not fear! “The powerful witness of the saints is revealed in their lives, shaped by the Beatitudes and the criterion of the final judgment” (Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, 109).
Let us be surprised once again by the Risen One. May it be He, from His wounded side, a sign of how harsh and unjust reality becomes, who pushes us not to turn our backs on the harsh and difficult reality of our brothers and sisters. May He be the one who teaches us to accompany, heal and dress the wounds of our people, not with fear but with the audacity and evangelical prodigality of the multiplication of the loaves (Mt 14: 15-21); with the courage, concern and responsibility of the Samaritan (see Lk 10: 33-35); with the shepherd’s joy and feast for his newfound sheep (Lk 15:4-6); with the reconciling embrace of the father who knows forgiveness (see Lk 15: 20); with the piety, gentleness and tenderness of Mary of Bethany (see Jn 12: 1-3); with the meekness, patience and intelligence of the Lord’s missionary disciples (see Mt 10: 16-23). May the plagued hands of the Risen One console our sorrows, raise our hope and push us to seek the Kingdom of God beyond our usual shelters. Let us be surprised also by our faithful and simple people, so many times tried and torn, but also visited by the Lord’s mercy. May this people teach us to shape and temper our shepherd hearts with meekness and compassion, with the humility and magnanimity of active, supportive, patient and courageous resistance, which does not remain indifferent, but denies and unmasks all skepticism and fatalism. How much there is to learn from the strength of God’s faithful People who always find a way to help and accompany those who have fallen! The Resurrection is the announcement that things can change. Let the Pasch, which knows no frontiers, lead us creatively to the places where hope and life are fighting, where suffering and pain become a context favorable to corruption and speculation, where aggression and violence seem to be the only way out.
As priests, children and members of a priestly people, it is up to us to take responsibility for the future and plan it as brothers. We place in the wounded hands of the Lord, as a holy offering, our fragility, the fragility of our people, that of all humanity. The Lord is the One who transforms us, who uses us like bread, takes our life in His hands, blesses us, breaks us and shares us and gives us to His people. And with humility let us allow ourselves to be anointed by Paul’s words so that they may spread like perfumed oil in the different corners of our city and thus awaken the discreet hope that many – tacitly
– conserve in their hearts: “We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body” (2 Cor 4: 8-10). Let us participate in Jesus’ passion, our passion, to live also with Him the power of the Resurrection: the certainty of God’s love capable of moving us inwardly and taking us out to the crossroads to bring the “glad tidings to the poor … to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (see Lk 4: 18-19), with the joy that all may actively participate with their dignity as children of the living God.
All these things, which I have thought and felt during this time of pandemic, I want to share fraternally with you, so that they may help us on the path of praise to the Lord and service to our brothers. I hope that we will all use them to “love and serve more”.
May the Lord Jesus bless you and the Blessed Virgin protect you. And please do not forget to pray for me.
Rome, at Saint John Lateran, 31 May 2020, Solemnity of Pentecost.
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