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Passionists UK Passio Issue #6 – August 2020

Passio Issue #6 – August 2020

The pandemic has had the effect of a lightning flash on our social landscape bringing to our awareness what has long been there but what we have chosen to ignore, particularly the plight of the environment, the vulnerability of the poorest and the scourge of racism.

Published Aug 27 2020

Introduction

Who among us could fail to recall that iconic moment on 27th March this year when Pope Francis, facing an almost empty St. Peter’s Square, delivered an extraordinary ‘Urbi et Orbi’ (to the city and the world) blessing, which a pope typically gives at Christmas and Easter and at his first public appearance after being elected pontiff?

To pray for an end to the pandemic Francis had enlisted two resources from close by: the sorrowful Christ of the ‘miraculous crucifix’ from the Church of St. Marcello in Via del Corso and the icon of Our Lady ‘Protector of the Roman People’, normally housed in the Basilica of St. Mary Major. In centuries past, they had both played a key role in ending the plague in Rome.

As we watched the solitary figure of the pope, practically alone on that rainy evening, we encountered the imagery of what many have faced and felt during the pandemic – that universal experience of being in the same boat as it is buffeted by the storm of external events and our need to find a renewed trust in the Lord.

‘We find ourselves frightened and lost’, the pope said. ‘Like the disciples in the gospel, we have been caught off guard by an unexpected, furious storm.’ And like those disciples we cry out: ‘Wake up, Lord!’

In his address, Francis urged us not to be afraid of this moment but, at the same time, not to waste this opportunity of conversion. He said, ‘We are paralysed at present but around us, inaction in itself has potential to change us.’ Inaction provides the opportunity to be still, take account of our bearings and surroundings and to allow nature the time and space to begin to heal itself, untrammelled by our anxious activity and industry.

Some commentators have referred to this time of pandemic as a ‘teaching moment’. What, then, might it teach us? The word ‘interconnectivity’ might be helpful here. This is a time to reconnect with nature. The problem has been that we have used and abused nature rather than contemplated and respected it. This is a time to reconnect with what matters most: love of God and our neighbour and accompaniment of others in our particular place. We must learn to see the human person before us, in their frail and vulnerable relationships. ‘Those are the things that need nurturing at this time and if we can do that, then better times will come’.

The pandemic has had the effect of a lightning flash on our social landscape bringing to our awareness what has long been there but what we have chosen to ignore, particularly the plight of the environment, the vulnerability of the poorest and the scourge of racism.

Francis reminded us of those ‘saints next door’, speaking of those who are serving as heroes at this time, from teachers to nurses and doctors (we might add from cleaners to bus drivers to care workers) but most of all drawing attention to the process of bringing the poor front and centre, and holding that church of the poor, which is a constant theme of his pontificate (making the periphery the centre), ensuring that they stay with us in our prayer, in our service, and in our response to this pandemic.

Above all, Francis calls upon us to trust God throughout what may come, especially in a world of economic hardship that awaits after the pandemic is over. Paradoxically, we pray for an end to the pandemic but must trust that it has a purpose and we need to engage with that purpose for it to bear fruit.

There is one line from the Pope’s address that stays with me: ‘we carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick.’ Instead of being a field hospital, incarnated at the sites of suffering in our world and amongst its crucified ones, we separated ourselves … and now we have discovered that we are vulnerable. We all risk sickness and death but these separations that we created are no longer valid, Francis said. ‘Now we (the church) are plunged into the sea with everybody else.’

The Pope is rooting this process of conversion for all of us in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable, inviting us to reimagine what our engagement with the poor is, as communities and parishes, and all of this on the fifth anniversary of ‘Laudato Si’, his ground-breaking encyclical on caring for the earth, our common home.

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