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COVID-19 News Archive

Concerns raised over restrictions' long-term impact on spiritual health
By Catholic News Service

SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) -- San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone thanked priests of the archdiocese in a July 30 letter for their "continued pastoral care" to their people and reminded them to continue their care "always keeping with the local health orders of your county."
   
He also asked his priests "to do everything possible to make Mass available to your people."
   
"Given the limits on numbers that have been imposed on us, I am asking each priest -- except for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions -- to be willing to celebrate up to three Masses on a Sunday, as necessary to respond to the demand," the archbishops said.
   
Currently 37 of California's state's 58 counties are on the state's coronavirus monitoring list, including the city and county of San Francisco and Marin and San Mateo counties -- the jurisdictions that make up the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
   
In San Francisco, outside religious services and funerals are allowed with a 12-person limit but indoor gatherings are not currently permitted. Indoor Sunday religious services also are banned at all San Mateo County churches.
   
In Marin County all houses of worship are closed for indoor services. Small outdoor "social" gatherings of up to 12 people are allowed, but news reports said local officials are allowing protests of up to 100 people.
   
Like Catholic dioceses across the country, many parishes in the San Francisco Archdiocese continue to livestream Masses, since public celebration of the Mass remains generally unavailable.
   
"For over four months now we have been deprived of the usual way in which we Catholics keep holy the Sabbath," the archbishop said. "As a sacramental church, it is in our nature, indeed it is our very identity, to physically gather together to worship and share in the Eucharist. I'm sure that you, just as I, are very concerned about the long-term effects this will have on our people's spiritual health."
   
He also said in recent weeks he has been given all kinds of advice as to what to do to fight the crowd limits, and he said "rapidly changing" orders also have led to confusion.
   
"All throughout these conversations," Archbishop Cordileone said, "I have spoken of how we want to be partners with the city in caring for our people -- not just for their physical and financial health, but mental and spiritual health as well -- emphasizing, too, the many different ways in which we have been supporting our local government in the effort to stem the spread of the virus and come to the aid of those in need."
   
He said confusion over state and local dictates about COVID-19 prevention led to a June 29 "cease and desist order" from City Attorney Dennis Herrera. He threatened the archdiocese with big fines after hearing reports that some Catholic churches were apparently operating "in defiance" of the city's public health protocols including requirements for face coverings and physical distancing.
   
“The archdiocese remains steadfast in protecting the health of its congregants and all San Franciscans” by following health and safety protocols, archdiocesan general counsel Paula Carney wrote Herrera.
   
Archbishop Cordileone said in his July 30 letter to priests that city officials have argued allowing certain capacity in retail outlets -- which was has been as much as 50% -- is safer than allowing indoor worship services because shoppers go into a store, make a purchase and leave, rather than stay in the store for an extended period of time, unlike worshippers who remain inside a church for the length of a service.
   
But the archbishop said he has argued that "a church can be a much safer place than a retail store, because it is a more controlled environment: The people are stationary; we can ensure social distancing; we can ensure that people are wearing face coverings; we can keep the doors open to allow air flow; we can sanitize high touch areas between services."
   
"With regard to outdoor services, you are all well aware that pre-planned and scheduled street protests have been allowed to continue unhindered," Archbishop Cordileone said, "while the limit of no more than 12 people still applies to everyone else, including us."
   
"Yet here again," he added, "an outdoor worship service is a much safer event than a protest, since the people are stationary, social distance is respected and the participants are wearing masks."
   
"Unfortunately, despite all of these efforts and explanations, and despite hearing words of approval for our archdiocesan safety plan that was submitted to the city's Recovery Task Force, there has been no change in the health order in San Francisco," Archbishop Cordileone said.
   
On a more positive note, he said, he wanted Catholics to pray for two men he was ordaining Aug. 1, Fathers Ben Rosado and Ian El-Quito, and for the men who will be ordained transitional deacons Aug. 8 and those who being ordained permanent deacons Aug. 15.
   
He also asked Catholics of the archdiocese "to storm heaven with prayer and fasting for a restoration of public worship unhindered, for a swift end to this pandemic, for health care workers and researchers, and for government officials who must make very complicated decisions for the overall well-being of our communities."
   
Across the country in Kentucky, as cases of COVID-19 in the state rose, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz in a July 25 letter to his priests said parishes in the Archdiocese of Louisville would continue holding Masses at reduced capacity and he asked pastors to "double down on issues such as social distancing and mask-wearing."
   
He also offered a reminder that he has issued a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.
   
In July, Gov. Andy Beshear urged Kentuckians to avoid large gatherings, and in recent consultation with the Kentucky Council of Churches, the governor suggested churches take a two-Sunday pause in holding in-person worship.
   
"The Catholic bishops of the commonwealth of Kentucky discussed this request late this week and decided not to ask parishes to suspend worship because of the very good job Catholic parishes have been doing with what has been asked of us, e.g. social distancing, mask-wearing, hygiene, cleaning, etc. and because of possible confusion on the part of the faithful," Archbishop Kurtz told priests.
   
He said the Catholic bishops sent a letter summarizing their thoughts to the Rev. Kent Gilbert, president of the board of the Kentucky Council of Churches, and copied Rocky Adkins, senior adviser to Beshear. In it the bishops said they recommit to safety and health protocols "and will especially emphasize mask-wearing as an important factor in being able to safely gather for worship during the pandemic."
   
"In the vast majority of our parishes," they said, "prudent caution on the part of our people has kept our crowd sizes well within the capacity guidelines. Given the rising number of cases, attendance may decline further."
   
"At this time, we will not be suspending the public celebration of Mass, but we will continue to monitor the situation," they added. "We look forward to continuing dialogue on this and other measures in the weeks ahead as we navigate the weeks and months to come."


Hunger high on list of battles that aid agency CRS faces amid pandemic
By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As the coronavirus pandemic commands global attention, for those working at organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, the health crisis is one in a long list of emergencies staff must tend to in its mission to help the world's poorest.
   
"Our partners in Lebanon said COVID is not their top problem, that their top problem is an economic crisis where they had an 80% devaluation of currency and are being really hit economically," said Sean Callahan, president and CEO of the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency in a July 17 interview with Catholic News Service about a dire hunger problem the world will soon face.
   
Hunger is what Lebanon is facing with the collapse of its currency, as people are able to buy far less with their money and food imports become scarce. Some worry the country may soon face famine, a situation the country hasn't seen since the late 1910s when, like the rest of the world, it, too, was dealing with a pandemic.  
   
And hunger, particularly during a pandemic, is of utmost concern -- not just in Lebanon.
   
A July 13 report from the United Nations said almost 690 million people went hungry in 2019, an increase of 10 million from the previous year -- figures arrived at before the pandemic began. Countries and geographic areas with a high number of vulnerable populations that may soon experience large-scale hunger, in addition to other conditions, are causing alarm among aid agencies such as CRS as the virus spreads.
   
"If they're malnourished, then they're much more susceptible to COVID. If they have malaria, they're much more susceptible to COVID, if they have HIV/AIDS, they are much more susceptible," said Callahan.
   
But even as CRS' army of 7,200 staff and partners who work on the organization's behalf worldwide are trying to fend off the virus themselves, some still head to the front lines to help.  
   
In the more than 110 countries where CRS serves, staff and partners have continued the organization's day-to-day work, Callahan said. Some have modified operations and are working remotely, while in other places they have continued to feed people and provide essential services but while observing standard precautions of wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining a safe distance from others.
   
The work has proved more challenging than ever.
 
In some places, in addition to the pandemic, some are dealing with a variety of obstacles, delivering help amid natural destruction because of tropical storms in Central America, drought and locust infestations in Africa and the current typhoon season in Asia -- in addition to localized violence in some countries. Some affiliated with CRS have even died in the conflicts, but the work, nevertheless, continues.
   
"We're continuing to do our livelihoods programs, making sure people get fed, get what they need so that they can plant (crops)," provide access to medicine or treatment for malaria, HIV/AIDS, administer immunizations, all "so that we don't have as bad a hunger crisis as is foreseen right now," Callahan said.
   
It's a race against the clock on many levels. Country lockdowns that have come about because of the pandemic have led to a series of interruptions in a variety of supplies in many countries, particularly developing nations.  
   
"So, food that would normally come from one country to another is now blocked off," said Callahan.
   
Some face threats even to the few local crops they had planted because of storm damage, as was the case in Central America where Tropical Storm Amanda blew in in late May. Now the threat of lack of supplies, and an impending plague of locusts, threatens newly planted crops.
   
"Small farmers and others who would normally go out and tend their fields are being asked to not travel, to stay at home," Callahan said. "The fertilizer and some of the pesticide that are required in certain areas can't get shipped in because of the closures of many of these countries and so there are all of these blockages that are reducing the ability for them to produce locally or to access food from other countries and so that is creating a problem."
   
Unlike the U.S., which offers economic relief packages to its citizenry, there is no economic safety net whatsoever in some places, Callahan said.
   
"They don't have that because they're daily wage earners or if they're a farmer who has loans out until their 'cosechas,' until the harvest comes in, they're waiting for that, but they need food and they need assistance," he said.
   
"If we don't help now, then we will have a much higher number of people in hunger. We'll have a higher number of young children that will be stunted, and, at that point, they can never recover," he continued. "They will never have their full human potential and so that will be a tragedy that will be on us for their lifetime and so it's really something that is urgent right now."
   
In places such as Central America, where schools have been closed since March, CRS has continued programs such as the school meals but in the form of monthly rations given to families so that children can continue to eat and won't go without food for extended periods of time.
   
In July, CRS joined other faith-based organizations asking Congress for $10 billion to $15 billion in aid for the more than 70% of countries the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have described as ill-equipped to handle the coronavirus.
   
With its "Lead the Way" campaign, it is asking U.S. Catholics to look at its advocacy website https://www.crs.org/get-involved/lead-way and become involved in what they can do for the vulnerable, calling or sending letters to their senators and members of Congress to push the funding through.
   
The campaign in English and Spanish is hoping to reach American Catholics of Hispanic descent to help in the effort, Callahan said.
   
"We're just asking for a small percentage of money (from the U.S. budget) to go overseas," he said. "We understand the U.S. needs to rebound back as well and we've got a lot of problems here ... but we also know that that we have a global responsibility and we need to reach out to our brothers and sisters overseas. American Catholics can be particularly helpful."
   
The money also would help with an urgent concern that directly affects CRS partners who live where the health systems are on the brink of collapsing.
   
"Medical facilities are in a challenging situation and so many of these people are working courageously to reach out to others who are in need, but at the same time, we're very, very concerned about the risk for them and particularly of our staff that are from those countries," he said.
   
"Our international staff can often be evacuated and go home, but those staff that are on the front lines and those local church partners, Caritas groups and others," Callahan said, "are really on those front lines and because they are on the frontlines providing service, they're much more in danger of catching COVID, being sick and so we're very concerned about the ability to treat them in a system."
   
With the challenges that COVID has introduced, there simply is no way to sugar coat an impending tragedy building up, he said.
   
"The situation is looking very dire," he said. "The World Food Program out of the U.N. ... they are predicting that it's going to be catastrophic."
   
Acute hunger could double this year from what it was in 2019, so the time to mitigate it is now, he said.
   
"It's a heavy responsibility and I feel a lot of weight on my shoulders," Callahan said.
   
But on the other hand, he added, "I am just truly inspired by the colleagues and the people that we work with around the world, to see the Gospel in action, to see church partners on the ground reaching out to people, to see the selflessness and the courageousness of our staff, helping people at a time when many of us are afraid that we will catch it ourselves. It is just quite frankly, truly, truly inspirational."


As cases of virus spike in Arizona, Tucson bishop suspends public worship
By Catholic News Service

TUCSON, Ariz. (CNS) -- Tucson Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger announced July 1 that state health officials have "strongly recommended" the suspension of public worship and that he agrees the recommendation is a wise course of action.
   
"Along with many of you, I too have been carefully following the pandemic's growth here in Arizona," he said in a statement to the faithful of the diocese. "The spike in cases has caused a tremendous stress for our hospitals and the rate of saturation within the general population appears to be moving upward at a serious pace."
   
As of July 1, he said, "our parishes will no longer be open to the public."
   
"My hope is that this suspension will be brief, but we owe it to our health care workers -- along with the most vulnerable among us -- to take this temporary step," Bishop Weisenburger explained. "At this time we're returning to the protocols we were following just prior to the reopening of our parishes."
   
The Arizona Republic daily newspaper reported July 6 that confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arizona had passed 100,000 that day, "just over five months since the first case was identified in Maricopa County in late January and just over two weeks since the case count passed 50,000."
   
Other news reports said Arizona now leads the U.S. in new cases per capita, with people younger than 42 accounting for more than half of them, according to state health officials.
   
The Diocese of Tucson is returning to remote worship, including livestreamed Masses, as was done in U.S dioceses after the pandemic hit in mid-March. The diocese had resumed limited public Mass in late May."

I anticipate this to be a brief suspension of public worship in our churches," Bishop Weisenburger said in his July 1 statement. "While nothing can fully replace our ability to gather in person, now is a time to let the church come to you in your homes."
   
He added, "Be assured of my daily prayers for your safety and good health, and I greatly look forward to when we can once again be in one another's company."


Pope: Pandemic is an opportunity for mission, service to others
By Junno Arocho Esteves Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While isolation, social distancing and economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic prove to be a challenge, Christians are called by God to take part in the church's mission in the world, Pope Francis wrote in a message for World Mission Sunday 2020.

"The impossibility of gathering as a church to celebrate the Eucharist has led us to share the experience of the many Christian communities that cannot celebrate Mass every Sunday," the pope wrote in his message, which was released by the Vatican May 31.

"In all of this, God's question: 'Whom shall I send?' is addressed once more to us and awaits a generous and convincing response: 'Here am I, send me!'" he said.

World Mission Sunday will be celebrated Oct. 18 at the Vatican and in most dioceses.

In his message, the pope said that despite the suffering and challenges posed by COVID-19, the church's "missionary journey" continues. Although pain and death "make us experience our human frailty," it also serves as a reminder of "our deep desire for life and liberation from evil."

"In this context, the call to mission, the invitation to step out of ourselves for love of God and neighbor presents itself as an opportunity for sharing, service and intercessory prayer," he wrote. "The mission that God entrusts to each one of us leads us from fear and introspection to a renewed realization that we find ourselves precisely when we give ourselves to others."

To be a "church on the move," he explained, is neither a program nor "an enterprise to be carried out by sheer force of will," but rather follows the prompting of the Holy Spirit "who pushes you and carries you."

Pope Francis said the celebration of World Mission Sunday offers an opportunity to reaffirm that one's prayers, reflections and offerings are ways "to participate actively in the mission of Jesus in his church."

He also reminded Christians that the mission of evangelization is "a free and conscious response to God's call" that can only be discerned by one's "personal relationship of love with Jesus present in his church."

"In all of this, God's question, 'Whom shall I send?' is addressed once more to us and awaits a generous and convincing response: 'Here am I, send me!'" the pope said. "God continues to look for those whom he can send forth into the world and to the nations to bear witness to his love, his deliverance from sin and death, his liberation from evil." - - -

The English text of the pope's message can be found at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/missions/documents/papa-francesco_20200531_giornata-missionaria2020.html

The Spanish text is here: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/messages/missions/documents/papa-francesco_20200531_giornata-missionaria2020.html https://dioceseoflasvegas.org/NewsDetails.aspx?NewsID=1710


At morning Mass, Pope offers prayers for unemployed
By Junno Arocho Esteves Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As countries continue to reel from the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis offered prayers for the men and women who have been unable to work.

"In these days, many people have lost their jobs, were not rehired or work off the books. Let us pray for these brothers and sisters of ours who are suffering from this lack of work," the pope said May 11 at the start of his Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

The pope's prayer came at a time when jobless rates have skyrocketed as businesses were forced to close their doors due to lockdown measures. According to a Washington Post report May 11, White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said the U.S. unemployment rate "is likely to rise to 20 percent" in June.

In his homily at the Mass, the pope reflected on the day's Gospel reading from St. John, in which Jesus promises his disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit who will "teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you."

Referring to Christ's use of the Greek word "Paraclete," which means "advocate," the pope said the Holy Spirit is the one "who supports us, who accompanies us so we won't fall, who holds you firmly."

The Holy Spirit's two main tasks, he explained, are to "teach" and "remind" Christians about faith.

The Holy Spirit "teaches us. He teaches us the mystery of faith, he teaches us to enter into the mystery, to understand the mystery a bit better," the pope said. "And the Spirit teaches us to grow in the understanding of faith, to understand it more, to understand what faith tells us."

Faith, he added, isn't something that remains static but, like a tree, continues to grow and gives fruit.

"The Holy Spirit prevents doctrine from being mistaken, it prevents it from standing still without growing in us," he said. "He will teach us the things that Jesus taught us, he will develop in us an understanding of what Jesus taught us and will make the Lord's doctrine grow within us until it is mature."

The Spirit's second task, he continued, is to remind us of Jesus' teachings and "is like a memory, it awakens us."

"He keeps us awake, he awakens us to the things of the Lord, he helps us remember our own lives," including the times when one has chosen to follow or leave the Lord, the pope said.

Pope Francis encouraged Christians to trust in the Holy Spirit who guides all people to discern what is right and wrong and is "God's gift" to all.

"The Spirit is the gift," he said. God "will not leave you alone, he will send you the Paraclete who will sustain you and help you to go forward, to remember, to discern and to grow. God's gift is the Holy Spirit."

- - -
Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju


Church wasn't prepared, either, for pandemic, nuncio to U.S. says
By Mark Pattison Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Just like billions of people throughout the world, "the church was not prepared" for the coronavirus pandemic, said Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican nuncio to the United States, in a May 6 interview with Catholic News Service.
   
"We are also people in an organization" beyond just a religion with adherents, Archbishop Pierre said in the interview, which was conducted via Zoom. "The other day I was with an archbishop who was telling me, 'Today, we have 16,000 people to give salary to, people who work for the church, and we have a huge organization.'"
   
In response, "we have to innovate. We have to be creative," Archbishop Pierre said.
   
He warned, though, of another malady that could strike the church.
   
"We live in a drastically changing time," Archbishop Pierre said. "May I say, in our church at times we take for granted what we have until it disappears. The empty church will not just be covered with vines, the empty church is provoked by another virus: the loss of faith, the lack of transmission of faith in the family, in the schools, in the society. A lot of the young people who have not had any belonging to the church. They have not received the gift of faith. They have not been invited to follow Jesus."
   
The nuncio said he has heard from some "protesting" people that "the bishops have closed the churches, there is no access to the sacraments, and so forth." But "we suffer what they suffer. The spiritual dimension of the meaning, maybe, of God's presence in the world is being rediscovered."
   
That is how he interpreted the May 1 reconsecration of the United States and Canada by their respective nations' bishops to Mary. Archbishop Pierre noted that bishops in Latin American countries have reconsecrated dioceses -- and in some cases the entire nation -- to Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas.
   
"It's an act of offering, knowing that God is there, taking charge of all of us. Our faith is not an idea. It's not just an ideology. There is nothing magical. It's a relationship with a person," he said.
  
"In our private devotions, we have constantly these practices of consecration to the Sacred Heart. You know there is a kind of culture ... when the new home is going up, you invite a priest just to bless your home, you put up an image of the Sacred Heart. These kinds of things," which he said help make people "aware that God is present."
   
Concern for those most at risk during the pandemic weighed on Archbishop Pierre's mind. "The church has to find ways and means. Actually, to be honest with you, since I've been in this country, I have seen how many works are done by organizations. They don't make noise about it, but Catholic Charities, CRS (Catholic Relief Services), and many others, there are many. Not just the big ones, (but) dioceses and so forth," he said.
   
"Another bishop was telling me a few days ago he was discovering how many were poor -- and so we have to do something," Archbishop Pierre added. "I would give a lot of attention to the migrants. The migrants are those now in a very difficult situation because of the precarity of their situation. Many of them are contracting the coronavirus and they are not being paid attention to."
   
He said: "The other day we had a kind of meeting through Zoom with a lot of actors in the church, Catholic Charities, people in charge of education, we were about 20 people sharing our experience. And I was amazed to see how people are acting, not just to foresee what will happen after that, but to be present .A bishop was telling me how many people are in need because they are poor. They are trying to organize a solidarity outreach to the poor."
   
This has filtered to the parish level as well, he said, having heard reports of "so many priests now, calling their parishioners all the time" and of "voluntarily, priests going to the hospital. ... We have to innovate, not to repeat the same things as before."
   
In his conversations with U.S. bishops, "first and foremost, they all suffer," Archbishop Pierre told CNS. "'Where are you, bishop?' 'At home.' But you know, on the other hand, I also feel they have this on their shoulders -- the huge responsibility of animating a church" that has been paralyzed in a shutdown mode for close to two months.
   
"They are worried about the condition of the dioceses, they are worried about what will happen financially. And I think it's important for the people also to share the responsibility of the bishops and their priests also. Because we know the resources of this side in defense of the people. It's also a good way to help the people feel more responsible for the future of their own church."
   
It has even touched Pope Francis. "For Francis, has had to readjust his practical life. He is like all bishops here," he said, restricted to staying inside.
   
"I know that Pope Francis is very anxious to exercise his mission and to announce the Good News and to evangelize to reach out to people," the nuncio said.
   
Even if speaking to an empty St. Peter's Square, he added, the pope is "advocating for the whole world. I know his words are reaching out all over the place. I said to myself, this is the situational life of a Jesuit. He shows the way to discern and he shows the way we have to behave in this time."
   
Likewise, Archbishop Pierre's bosses at the Vatican Secretariat of State have been on restriction, although Pope Francis has assigned Cardinal Peter Turkson to figure out a reopening plan for the Vatican. "The Holy Father would like to have a kind of analysis of what is happening today. We know what is happening, but what should we be doing later. ... What will be the perspective of the church for the next few months?"
   
The nunciature in Washington is still operating, but Archbishop Pierre's own travels have been postponed. "We wait for the time when hopefully we will be able to do it as before, especially for me," he said adding that a current problem is a number of new bishops who have "not yet been ordained or installed. So we wait and see for the moment. We will have to take decisions. Many things have been postponed."
   
One event Archbishop Pierre had to miss was the May 6 installation of new Atlanta Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer. He did see, though, the new archbishop's homily from a vespers service the night before the ordination in which Archbishop Hartmayer asked his listeners what lessons they will take from "these weeks of physical separation. We do not know how much we have until we lose it."
  
"What if, thanks be to God, we are only separated the Eucharist and one other to be jarred into a different situation, a manifestation of the great and fragile gift to what we have been entrusted?" Archbishop Pierre asked aloud in a lament of continued U.S. church infighting, saying, "A house divided against itself will crumble.


Now is time to build new world without inequality, injustice, pope says
By Carol Glatz Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- As the world slowly recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a risk it will be struck by an even worse virus -- that of selfish indifference, Pope Francis said.

This dangerous virus is "spread by the thought that life is better if it is better for me and that everything will be fine if it is fine for me. It begins there and ends up selecting one person over another, discarding the poor and sacrificing those left behind on the altar of progress," he said in his homily at a Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 19.

The current pandemic instead must compel people to prepare for a "collective future" that sees the whole human family as one and holds all of the earth's gifts in common in order to be shared justly with those in need, he said.

"This is not some ideology: it is Christianity," and it mirrors the way the early Christian community lived, the pope said at the Mass, celebrated privately at Rome's Church of the Holy Spirit, which houses a shrine dedicated to Divine Mercy.

The Mass was celebrated on the 20th anniversary of St. John Paul II's declaration that the Sunday after Easter would be celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday. The Divine Mercy movement was founded in the early 1900s by Polish St. Faustina Kowalska, who said Jesus told her he wanted a feast of Divine Mercy as a refuge and shelter for all souls.

In his homily, Pope Francis noted that St. Faustina said Jesus told her, "I am love and mercy itself; there is no human misery that could measure up to my mercy." The Lord always patiently and faithfully waits for people to recognize their failings and sins and to offer them to him "so that he can help us experience his mercy," the pope said.

Even the disciples, and especially St. Thomas, experienced fear and doubt, failing to believe in the risen Lord right away, the pope said.

Jesus doesn't scold them with a sermon because "he wants us to see him not as a taskmaster with whom we have to settle accounts, but as our father who always raises us up," just like any father would when his child falls, the pope said.

"The hand that always puts us back on our feet is mercy: God knows that without mercy we will remain on the ground, that in order to keep walking, we need to be put back on our feet," he said.

Right now, he said, the world is undergoing a "time of trial" and, like St. Thomas, "with our fears and our doubts, (we) have experienced our frailty. We need the Lord, who sees beyond that frailty an irrepressible beauty," like a crystal that is delicate, but precious and transparent before God who lets his light of mercy "shine in us and through us in the world."

The most beautiful message on the feast of Divine Mercy, the pope said, comes from St. Thomas, "the disciple who arrived late," but for whom the Lord waited, not leaving him behind.

"Now while we are looking ahead to a slow and arduous recovery from the pandemic, there is a danger that we will forget those who are left behind. The risk is that we may then be struck by an even worse virus, that of selfish indifference," he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic "reminds us that there are no differences or borders between those who suffer," he said. "We are all frail, all equal, all precious."

"May we be profoundly shaken by what is happening all around us: the time has come to eliminate inequalities, to heal the injustice that is undermining the health of the entire human family," the pope urged.

"Let us welcome this time of trial as an opportunity to prepare for our collective future," the pope said, because without a vision that embraces everyone, "there will be no future for anyone." "Let us show mercy to those who are most vulnerable for only in this way will we build a new world," he said.

The prayers of the faithful at the Mass asked God for consolation, mercy and strength for the church, government leaders, priests, Christians, health-care workers, volunteers and the homeless during the global pandemic.

"May priests always administer the sacrament of reconciliation with a merciful heart and in this period of enforced solitude, may they offer forgiveness and consolation through every means," one petition prayed.

"May all the baptized not let themselves be intimidated by the inconveniences and sufferings from these weeks, but may they know how to give spiritual comfort and material support generously to all those who are in a precarious situation," said another petition.

After Mass, before praying the "Regina Coeli," the pope said Christians must respond to life's storms with mercy and compassion toward everyone, especially those who suffer, are abandoned or in need.

"May Christian mercy also inspire the just sharing among nations and their institutions in order to face the current crisis in solidarity," he said.

The pope ended his midday address by offering Easter greetings to Orthodox and Eastern Catholics celebrating according to the Julian calendar and thanking those Eastern-rite Catholics who were also celebrating the same day as a gesture of ecumenism and fraternity.

Because of restrictions in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the Divine Mercy Mass was celebrated without the presence of the public, with only a small choir and with only two concelebrants: Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, and Msgr. Jozef Bart, the church rector.

St. John Paul visited the church in 1995 and canonized St. Faustina in 2000, proclaiming the second Sunday of Easter as Mercy Sunday throughout the world. The Polish pope's death in 2005 came on the eve of Mercy Sunday, and his beatification in 2011 and canonization in 2014 were celebrated on Mercy Sunday.


COVID-19 is not God's judgment, but a call to live differently, Pope Francis says in Ubri et Orbi homily
By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

Full text of the Pop's homily English / Spanish

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The worldwide coronavirus pandemic is not God's judgment on humanity, but God's call on people to judge what is most important to them and resolve to act accordingly from now on, Pope Francis said.
Pope Francis offered his meditation on the meaning of the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications for humanity March 27 before raising a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament and giving an extraordinary blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world).
   
Popes usually give their blessing "urbi et orbi" only immediately after their election and on Christmas and Easter.
Pope Francis opened the service -- in a rain-drenched, empty St. Peter's Square -- praying that the "almighty and merciful God" would see how people are suffering and give them comfort. He asked to care for the sick and dying, for medical workers exhausted by caring for the sick and for political leaders who bear the burden of making decisions to protect their people.
   
The service included the reading of the Gospel of Mark's account of Jesus calming the stormy sea.
   
"Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives," the pope said. "Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them."
   
Like the disciples on the stormy Sea of Galilee, he said, "we will experience that, with him on board, there will be no shipwreck, because this is God's strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things."
   
The Gospel passage began, "When evening had come," and the pope said that with the pandemic and its sickness and death, and with the lockdowns and closures of schools and workplaces, it has felt like "for weeks now it has been evening."
   
"Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void that stops everything as it passes by," the pope said. "We feel it in the air, we notice it in people's gestures; their glances give them away.
   
"We find ourselves afraid and lost," he said. "Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm."
    However, the pandemic storm has made most people realize that "we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented," the pope said. And it has shown how each person has a contribution to make, at least in comforting each other.
   
"On this boat are all of us," he said.
   
The pandemic, the pope said, has exposed "our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities."
   
In the midst of the storm, Pope Francis said, God is calling people to faith, which is not just believing God exists, but turning to him and trusting him.
   
As Lent and the pandemic go on, he said, God continues to call people to "convert" and "return to me with all your heart."
It is a time to decide to live differently, live better, love more and care for others, he said, and every community is filled with people who can be role models -- individuals, "who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives."
   
Pope Francis said the Holy Spirit can use the pandemic to "redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people -- often forgotten people -- who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines," but are serving others and making life possible during the pandemic.
   
The pope listed "doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves."
   
"How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility," he said. And "how many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer."
   
"How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all," he said. "Prayer and quiet service: These are our victorious weapons."
In the boat, when the disciples plead with Jesus to do something, Jesus responds, "Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?"
"Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us," the pope said. "In this world that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything.
   
"Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things and be lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet," Pope Francis said.
  
 "We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick," he said. "Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: 'Wake up, Lord!'"
   
The Lord is calling on people to "put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be foundering," the pope said.
   
"The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith," he said. "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."
   
Pope Francis told people watching around the world that he would "entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, health of the people, and star of the stormy sea."
   
"May God's blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace," he said. "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."
  
Introducing the formal blessing, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica, announced that it would include a plenary indulgence "in the form established by the church" to everyone watching on television or internet or listening by radio.
   
An indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven. Catholics following the pope's blessing could receive the indulgence if they had "a spirit detached from sin," promised to go to confession and receive the Eucharist as soon as possible and said a prayer for the pope's intentions.


What is a plenary indulgence?
By Carol Glatz Catholic News Service

Special indulgences have also been granted to those suffering from COVID-19, their caregivers, friends and family and those who help them with their prayers.
    But what is this ancient practice of offering indulgences through prayer and penance and what is needed to receive them?
    An indulgence is not a quick ticket to heaven, as St. John Paul II once said; rather, it is an aid for the real conversion that leads to eternal happiness.
    Sins are forgiven through the sacrament of penance, but then there is a kind of punishment still due the sinner, the late pope explained during a general audience in 1999.
    God's fatherly love "does not exclude chastisement, even though this always should be understood in the context of a merciful justice which reestablishes the order violated," he said.
    The pope had said the "temporal" punishment that remains after forgiveness is a grace aimed at wiping away the "residues of sin," offering the reformed sinner the chance of complete healing through "a journey of purification" that can take place in this life or in purgatory.
    By God's grace, participation in a prayer or action that has an indulgence attached to it brings about the necessary restoration and reparation without the suffering that would normally accompany it. It frees a person from the punishment their sinfulness warrants as it is a remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven.
    The granting of an indulgence by the church is "the expression of the church's full confidence of being heard by the Father when, in view of Christ's merits and, by his gift, those of Our Lady and the saints, she asks him to mitigate or cancel the painful aspect of punishment by fostering its medicinal aspect through other channels of grace," the late pope said.
    An indulgence, then, is the result of the abundance of God's mercy, which he offers to humanity through Jesus Christ and through the church, he said.
    But this gift cannot be received automatically or simply by fulfilling a few exterior requirements nor can it be approached with a superficial attitude, St. John Paul said.
    The reception of an indulgence depends on "our turning away from sin and our conversion to God," he said.
    That is why there are several conditions for receiving an indulgence:
    -- A spirit detached from sin.
    -- Sacramental confession as soon as possible.
    -- Eucharistic communion as soon as possible.
    -- Prayer for the Holy Father's intentions.
    -- Being united spiritually through the media to the pope's special prayer and blessing on March 27.
    Those who are sick and their caregivers can also unite themselves spiritually whenever possible through the media to the celebration of Mass or the recitation of the rosary or the Stations of the Cross or other forms of devotion, according to Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican court that deals with matters of conscience and with indulgences.
    If this is not possible, "they are asked to recite the Creed, the Lord's Prayer and an invocation to Mary," he told Vatican News March 21.
    "All others -- those who offer prayers for the souls of the dead, those who suffer and plead for an end to the pandemic -- are asked, where possible, to visit the Blessed Sacrament or to participate in eucharistic adoration. Alternatively, (they can) read the Holy Scriptures for at least half an hour or recite the rosary or the Way of the Cross," he said.
    The faithful can claim the indulgence for themselves or offer it on behalf of someone who has died.


Vatican asks bishops to help faithful celebrate Holy Week, Easter at home
By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

Vatican asks bishops to help faithful celebrate Holy Week, Easter at home By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican has asked Catholic bishops around the world, both in the Latin rite and the Eastern Catholic Churches, to provide their faithful with resources to support personal and family prayer during Holy Week and at Easter, especially where COVID-19 restrictions prevent them from going to church.
 
The Congregation for Eastern Churches, publishing "indications" March 25 for the Paschal celebrations in the churches it supports, urged the heads of the churches to issue concrete, specific norms for the celebrations "in accordance with the measures established by the civil authorities for the containment of the contagion."
 
The statement was signed by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, congregation prefect, and asked the Eastern churches to "arrange, and distribute through the means of social communication, aids that allow an adult of the family to explain to the little ones the 'mystagogy' (religious meaning) of the rites that under normal conditions would be celebrated in the church with the assembly present."
 
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, updating a note originally published March 20, also asked that bishops' conferences and dioceses "see to it that resources are provided to support family and personal prayer" during Holy Week and Easter where they cannot go to Mass.
 
The Congregation for Eastern Churches' suggestions for celebrating the liturgies in the midst of the pandemic were not as specific as those issued for Latin-rite Catholics because the Eastern Catholic churches have a variety of liturgical traditions and may follow the Julian calendar, with Palm Sunday and Easter a week later this year than on the Gregorian calendar used by most Catholics.
  Still, the congregation said, in the Eastern Catholic churches "the feasts are strictly to be kept on the days foreseen by the liturgical calendar, broadcasting or streaming those celebrations that are possible, so that they can be followed by the faithful in their homes."
 
The one exception is the liturgy at which the "holy myron," or sacramental oils, are blessed. While it has become the custom to bless the oil the morning of Holy Thursday, "this celebration, not being linked in the East to this day, can be moved to another date," the statement said.
  Cardinal Sandri asked the heads of the Eastern Catholic churches to consider ways to adapt their liturgies particularly because "the participation of the choir and ministers expected by some ritual traditions is not possible at the present time when prudence advises avoiding gathering in significant numbers."
 
The congregation asked the churches to omit rites usually held outside the church building and to postpone any baptisms scheduled for Easter.
 
Eastern Christianity has a wealth of ancient prayers, hymns and sermons that the faithful should be encouraged to read around the cross on Good Friday, the statement said.
 
Where going to the nighttime celebration of Easter liturgy is not possible, Cardinal Sandri suggested "families may be invited, where possible through the festive sound of the bells, to gather to read the Gospel of the Resurrection, lighting a lamp and singing some troparion or songs typical of their tradition that the faithful often know by memory."
 
And, he said, many Eastern Catholics will be disappointed that they cannot go to confession before Easter. In line with a decree issued March 19 by the Apostolic Penitentiary, "let pastors indicate to the faithful the recitation of some of the rich penitential prayers from the Oriental tradition to be recited with a spirit of contrition."
 
The decree from the Apostolic Penitentiary, a church tribunal dealing with matters of conscience, asked priests to remind Catholics facing "the painful impossibility of receiving sacramental absolution," that they can make an act of contrition directly to God in prayer.
 
If they are sincere and promise to go to confession as soon as possible, they "obtain the forgiveness of sins, even mortal sins," the decree said.
 
Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski, the new head of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of the Holy Family of London, told Catholic News Service March 25 that a group of Ukrainian bishops already is working on guidelines for their church.
 
One popular Easter tradition, followed especially among Ukrainians living abroad without their families, he said, is to have the bishop or priest bless a basket of their Easter foods, including decorated eggs, bread, butter, meat and cheese.
 
"We want to find ways to livestream the liturgies and help our faithful understand that it is Christ who blesses," not the priest, Bishop Nowakowski said.
 
In addition, he said, "Our Lord is not restricted by the sacraments; he can come into our lives in these very trying circumstances in many ways."


Pope Francis urges Catholics to 'unite spiritually' in praying rosary
Pope Francis has invited every family, every individual Catholic, and every religious community to pray the Luminous mysteries on Thursday, March 19 at 9:00 pm Rome time. However, during this time of crisis we can continue to pray the rosary every day of the week in unity. Watch Eucharistic Adoration in EWTN Chapel and Holy Rosary from Lourdes.


Pope announces extraordinary 'urbi et orbi' blessing March 27

By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis said he will give an extraordinary blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world) at 6 p.m. Rome time March 27.
 
The formal blessing -- usually given only immediately after a new pope's election and on Christmas and Easter -- carries with it a plenary indulgence for all who follow by television, internet or radio, are sorry for their sins, recite a few prescribed prayers and promise to go to confession and to receive the Eucharist as soon as possible.
 
After reciting the Angelus prayer March 22 from the library of the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis announced his plans for the special blessing, which, he said, would be given in an "empty" St. Peter's Square because all of Italy is on lockdown to prevent further spread of the virus.
 
With the public joining him only by television, internet or radio, "we will listen to the word of God, raise our prayer (and) adore the Blessed Sacrament," he said. "At the end, I will give the benediction 'urbi et orbi,' to which will be connected the possibility of receiving a plenary indulgence."
 
An indulgence is an ancient practice of prayer and penance for the remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven. In Catholic teaching, a person can draw on the merits of Jesus and the saints to claim the indulgence for themselves or offer it on behalf of someone who has died.
 
In addition to announcing the special blessing, Pope Francis said that at a time "when humanity trembles" because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he was asking Christians of every denomination to join together at noon March 25 to recite the Lord's Prayer. The Catholic Church and many others mark March 25 as the feast of the Annunciation.
 
"To the pandemic of the virus we want to respond with the universality of prayer, compassion and tenderness," he said. "Let's stay united. Let us make those who are alone and tested feel our closeness," as well as doctors, nurses, other healthcare workers and volunteers.
 
Pope Francis also expressed concern for "authorities who have to take strong measures for our good" and the police and soldiers maintaining public order and enforcing the lockdown.



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