VATICAN CITY (RNS) – As many countries slowly attempt a return to normalcy, easing the safety measures imposed during the coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis has called for an international moment of prayer to entrust humanity to the Lord and the Virgin Mary on Saturday (May 3o) the day before Pentecost, the feast marking the birth of the church.
“At the feast of Mary, the Holy Father will present the many anxieties and suffering of humanity, made worse by the diffusion of Covid-19,” read the press release by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of New Evangelization, which is sponsoring the moment of prayer.
The pandemic has coincided with some of the most important religious days of the year. Social distancing affected the way Muslims experienced Ramadan, just as Jewish communities had to adapt Passover celebrations.
The same can be said for Christians who, in many countries, experienced the height of the pandemic during Lent, a period of reflection before the commemoration of Jesus’ death and resurrection in Holy Week. Easter in 2020, far from being a moment of coming together with family and friends, was for many a time of solitude.
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On Pentecost, Christians believe, the Holy Spirit descended as fire over the heads of the Apostles, gifting them with the ability to speak all languages and spread the gospel.
The moment of prayer will take place in the Vatican Gardens at the shrine dedicated to Mary. It is a small replica of the Grotto of Lourdes in France, where a young Bernadette Soubirous, who was later sainted, claimed to have multiple visions of the Madonna.
The Vatican shrine also has a personal significance for Francis. He visited the statue of Mary the day after his election to the pontificate in 2013.
Catholics at Marian shrines all over the world will join in with Francis to recite the rosary for the end of the pandemic, which will emphasize the global reach of the church. Lay Catholics and religious from Fatima (Portugal), Lourdes (France), the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (United States), the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexico) and many more will take part in the celebration.
“We will also pray for a vaccine. After all, one visits shrines to ask for the grace of healing from sickness. Why not do it for a terrible pandemic like this one?” said Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who leads the Vatican department charged with evangelization, in an interview with Italian daily “Il Messaggero” on Wednesday (May 27).
“It will be a collective moment to be close to those who experienced loss and couldn’t say a word, hold the hand, be close to the departed. We will pray for hope and for healing,” he added.
The event will include several lay people who have been personally impacted by the pandemic. There will be nurses, doctors and health personnel, who Francis has often praised for being on the front lines in fighting the virus.
People who have either caught the virus and recovered or lost a loved one to the pandemic will also be included, as will journalists, pharmacists and volunteers who have kept working through the pandemic.
A number of priests, nuns and religious who worked to provide spiritual and material support to the many who were struggling during the pandemic will also be present.
Additionally, there will be a “young family who in this period saw the birth of their child, a symbol of hope and of the victory of life over death,” the statement said.