Urbi et Orbi 2 Years Later: Pope Francis Prays for an End to the Pandemic in an Empty St. Peter’s Square
‘Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?’
“When evening had come” (Mark 4:35).
Today marks two years since the world witnessed Pope Francis standing alone in an empty St. Peter's Square offering a blessing for all of humanity at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Images that remain emblazoned in our minds resurface today as we reflect on the two years that have passed, marked by distance, isolation, death and anxiety, as the world grapples with the ever-changing landscape of the pandemic.
On a dark and stormy day, Pope Francis prayed for the suffering world. Evening had indeed come for so many. Pictures of Pope Francis offering prayers in supplication for an end to the pandemic as many of us watched from television, with churches across the globe shuttered, now come to mind as we are now two years in. Our world is still healing and hungry for a world of normalcy.
As hospitals mobilized to help hundreds of patients coming into emergency rooms struggling to breathe during March 2020 with a virus not really yet fully understood, the Holy Father spoke about the “anchor” of Christ, reflecting on the violent storm that had so gripped his disciples with fear.
“We have an anchor: By his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: By his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: By his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love.”
And the world indeed was rocking in the waves of a frightening pandemic, in tempestuous seas of uncertainty and fear. And in the wake of this unkown, the Pope asked all of us the question Jesus queried of his faithful: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”
Pope Francis expounded more on this present-day storm:
“The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly ‘save’ us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.”
The onset of the pandemic two years ago came during the season of Lent, a time of penance, fasting, prayer and almsgiving; a time of deep introspection and self-examination, a period of offering up our suffering for the sake of Christ and others. Two years ago today, Pope Francis reminded us all of the Christian call to truly embrace the cross of Jesus.
“Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.”
As we continue in this current Lenten season, while the raging rivers of the pandemic seem to be subsiding (we pray), may we hold these images in our hearts, reflecting on the great need to help those still suffering from the wounds of war, despair, isolation and pain. May we also recall the words of Pope Francis on this day two years ago and continue this prayer in our hearts:
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”
“Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: ‘Do not be afraid’ (Matthew 28:5). And we, together with Peter, ‘cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us’ (1 Peter 5:7).”