Welcom April 2020. On 11 March, 2020, Pope Francis visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Divine Love, outside of Rome. While there the Holy Father entrusted Rome and all Italy to the Blessed Virgin Mary’s help and protection. He did this of course as the coronavirus pandemic gathered pace in Italy. Various Popes had prayed at this shrine over the years for specific intentions. One was in 1522 at the time of the plague pandemic; another was Pope Pius XII in 1944 praying that Rome would be spared during the Second World War.
This is a time for prayer, as any such times of illness are. We know that many people died as they cared for victims of the Plague centuries ago. One of the stories – and there are many of them – is of St Aloysius Gonzaga who died in 1591 while nursing victims of the Plague in Rome.
This could make us wonder what we are to do today to care for those who might be isolated or who have contracted the virus.
When Pope Francis prayed at the Shrine on 11 March, he had prepared a prayer that he suggested should be prayed during the coronavirus pandemic. It specifically mentions Rome and Italy, but of course can be adapted for wherever we are. The prayer is at the end of this column.
We are being warned very strongly to put distances between ourselves and others so as not to spread the virus. At first this ‘distancing’ may sound un-Christian, but we must listen to medical experts. As with doctors, the first rule of a Christian at this time is ‘Do no harm’. That means not doing anything that might spread the virus to others.
In the time before germs and viruses were understood, people often blamed others, strangers, witches, the poor who probably could not afford to be as hygienic as others, or as today some people are blaming China and Chinese people. Anyone who was ‘different’ could be the target of people’s fear. Even today, conspiracy theories abound and some think prayer will work magically. Again, we need to listen to medical experts and not to conspiracy theorists who use any crisis to make money or stir up hatred and division.
The experts tell us that the best ways to avoid the virus are truly simple:
1. Stay at home. Stay at home!
2. Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands!
3. Don’t touch your face. Don’t touch your face. Don’t touch your face!
We have all heard the story of Naaman in the Second Book of Kings, who scoffed when the Prophet Elisha told him to wash seven times in the Jordan to cure his leprosy. Sometimes we too do not take simple solutions seriously. But we too need to listen to Naaman’s servants, who challenged him by saying, ‘If the prophet told you to do something extraordinary, would you not do it? All the more since he told you, “Wash, and be clean”’.
Some other attitudes worth thinking about and cultivating are:
- Every hand that we can’t shake now could become a phone call we make.
- Every embrace that we miss could become a verbal expression of warmth and concern.
- Every metre that we physically place between ourselves and another, could become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other person should the need arise.
The way we will protect and save ourselves is through protecting and saving others. We are being challenged to rethink how we care for others. We are being challenged to rethink our routines and way of life, including our religious practices, and to find new ways to nourish ourselves spiritually. Everyone can contribute to this process, and we have amazing technological ways to share our ideas.
I wish to acknowledge that the above are not all my ideas. I acknowledge the writings of:
1. Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky is the rabbi of B’nai David-Judea, a Modern Orthodox congregation in Los Angeles.
2. Fr Thomas Reese sj of Religion News Service.
Prayer of Pope Francis
You always shine on our path
as a sign of salvation and hope.
We rely on you, Health of the sick,
You who, at the cross, united with Jesus’ pain,
keeping steadfast your faith.
You, Salvation of the Roman people,
you know what we need
and we are sure that you will provide
for, as at Cana of Galilee,
may joy and celebration return
after this trial.
Help us, Mother of Divine Love,
to conform to the will of the Father
and to do what we are told by Jesus,
Who has taken our suffering upon Himself
and has burdened Himself with our sorrows
to lead us through the cross,
to the joy of resurrection.
Under your protection we seek refuge, Holy Mother of God.
Do not spurn the pleas of we who are in trial
And free us from every danger,
O glorious and blessed Virgin.