WASHINGTON D.C. – Shortly after 11 a.m. on Monday, Julia Lum was one of the first to arrive at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception’s Great Upper Church to participate in a worldwide recitation of the rosary, offering prayers for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lum didn’t have any personal intentions in mind. She just wanted the opportunity to pray alongside her Catholic brothers and sisters for an important cause.
“This pandemic has killed a lot of people. It’s changed the entire world,” Lum told Crux. “I just want things to go back to normal, and want the pandemic to be eradicated.”
“I’m also just praying for peace in the world and unity and praying for those who are desperate and in need. We all need help. We need to pray for each other.”
By the time the recitation began at noon, Lum was alongside more than 200 people — all masked and socially distanced — who filled the pews. Many of the attendees, like Lum, didn’t have personal intentions but wanted to participate with the pandemic in mind.
Others, meanwhile, were there with heavy hearts thinking about a loved one they lost in the past year.
Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington led the recitation. It was a part of Pope Francis’ call for a “marathon” of prayer in May “to ask for the end of the pandemic.” As part of the rosary marathon, every day in May, through the end of the month, at noon, the rosary is prayed from a different Marian shrine around the world with a specific prayer intention.
Monday’s was for “all world leaders and for all heads of international organizations.”
“We entrust into the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary the people touched by the pandemic and in particular for all world leaders and for heads of international organizations, that she may entrust them to her Son,” Gregory said. “May He hear and grant our petitions.”
Before the recitation began, Monsignor Walter Rossi, the rector of the Basilica, spoke with the Diocese of Brooklyn’s “Currents News” about the essential role of world leaders in bringing the COVID-19 pandemic to an end.
“World leaders really have control over what’s taking place. They’re the ones who have put in the shutdown. They’re the ones who do the rollout, the opening, and they’re the ones who are getting us all vaccinated,” Rossi said. “They have a very important role to play in this entire pandemic situation and especially bringing it to an end.”
Just before Gregory, Monsignor Vito Buonanno, the director of pilgrimages at the Basilica, asked for Mary’s intercession to comfort the grieving and distraught and protect the front-line workers who risk their lives daily.
“Mary, consecration of the afflicted, embrace all of your children in distress and pray that God will stretch out his all-powerful hand and free us from this terrible pandemic so that life can serenely resume its normal pulse,” Buonanno said.
Other Catholics in the pews included Antonieta Berthe, who lost her 95-year-old mother to the pandemic.
“It is very personal because of the death of my mother from COVID,” Berthe said of the recitation. “It just brings a lot of memories, and asking our Blessed Mother for her intercession, it’s just very meaningful to me.”
Katie Evans traveled an hour from southern Maryland so her two young children could experience the Basilica and continue their daily COVID-19 prayer from a new location.
“We came because we wanted to continue our journey of praying the rosary for an end to the pandemic,” Evans told Crux.
Buffalo, N.Y., residents Bob and Maureen Fahey were in the nation’s capital on vacation and decided it was important to attend the recitation because the themes of praying for an end to the pandemic and our world leaders “seemed so encompassing of everything [society] needs.”
Some of the other Marian shrines that already have, or soon will, participate in the rosary marathon are located in England, Nigeria, Israel, South Korea, Turkey, Canada, Myanmar, Mexico, Germany, and Lebanon.
Some of the remaining prayer intentions are for pharmacists and health care personnel, social workers, teachers, consecrated men and women, and essential workers.
The May 18 rosary took place at Our Lady of Lourdes in France for “all doctors and nurses.” Pope Francis will close the month by leading the prayer for “the end of the pandemic and the resumption of our social and economic life” from the Vatican Gardens on May 31.
Before Monday’s prayer at the Basilica 51 candles were lit to represent the 50 states and Washington D.C. Rossi said he hoped the parishioners that came left with a feeling of comfort.
“Comfort, peace, and hope that through our prayers, this pandemic will come to an end, and through our prayers, we can go back to whatever normal is going to be,” he said.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg