ROSARIO, Argentina – As Catholics around the world celebrated Pentecost Sunday, bishops and bishops’ conferences released messages to mark the occasion. Though most were heavily influenced by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the tone varied depending on what “phase” of pandemic their regions are in.
Here’s a sample of what the bishops said throughout the weekend.
Ukrainian bishops in the United States
Led by Eparch Borys Gudziak of Philadelphia, the five Ukrainian Catholic bishops ministering in the United States noted that in Christ’s resurrection “we overcome all obstacles to encounter, reconciliation and union with God and all of God’s children. No COVID-19, no isolation, no death, is stronger than the healing and uniting Spirit of God, ‘who renews the face of the earth’.”
Pentecost marks when the Holy Spirit came down on the apostles 50 days after Easter, and is celebrated as the birthday of the Church.
They dedicated an important part of their message to thanking first responders, medical personnel, teachers, the clergy and all who found creative ways to respond to the crisis. They also offered their condolences to those who lost someone to the virus. Among the victims is Metropolitan Stephen Sulyk, a Ukrainian bishop in the US who lost his life to COVID-19.
The Ukrainian bishops in the U.S. quoted from a Pentecost message written from a Siberian gulag by Metropolitan Josyf Slipyj, the head of the Ukrainian church in times when this eastern European country was under dominion of Joseph Stalin, who believed God was dead and Christians were to disappear in death also.
“Our hardships force us — exhausted, oppressed, and frightened — to bend our knee and pray for the Holy Spirit to strengthen the Church, to bring her out of this mournful state … and to inspire in her a new supernatural vigor,” Josyf wrote to a church that Soviet officials had declared liquidated.
“No contagion, catastrophe, regime, war, poverty or persecution can overcome the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit— the Spirit of Hope,” the bishops write, before delving into the “miracle” that was the re-birth of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which began when in 1963, following an intervention of St. Pope John XXIII, Josyf was released from his 18-year captivity and allowed to go to Rome, where he took part in the Vatican Council II and led the Ukrainian church for another 21 years.
The Bishop of Santo Tome, Gustavo Montini, shared his reflections on his weekly radio program, where he spoke of the COVID-19 quarantine, noting that when the country starts discussing its flexibility, it’s important to make everyone aware “the person is not only an economic good.”
He highlighted as a positive thing that as some regions of the country have begun relaxing their restrictions – the country has been in lockdown since March 20. Churches are open for individual prayers, but Masses and other liturgical celebrations are still banned.
“When thinking about quarantine and the flexibility of its implementation, we must keep in mind that the person is not just an economic good,” Montini said. “I understand that the economic situation is very difficult, but to think about opening up only with an economic criterion is itself a poverty and does not understand the human person.”
“The person is not only the economy; a person has a heart, affections, spirit and soul,” he said. “When thinking about quarantine, how to cope with it and how to make it more flexible, we have to have all these elements in mind. This is a pretty important thing.”
He said that the bishops have reminded the Government and those managing the quarantine that “a person needs human connections and also his link with God.”
Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney released his Pentecost letter after a successful campaign that led the government of the Australian state of New South Wales to putting churches on equal terms with pubs and restaurants, and allowing religious services involving up to 50 people beginning June 1.
According to Fisher, the story of Pentecost and what it initiated is “a story of the power of the spiritual.”
“In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, our community has, on the whole, responded very responsibly,” he wrote. “The focus of our civic leaders has been very much on our physical and economic security. But what about friendship, intimacy, meaning and purpose?”
Fisher argues that putting these needs in the basket of “mental health,” doesn’t help because it’s “perfectly healthy” to be “lonely, anxious, grieving or spiritually dry during the lockdown,” or to miss “being hugged or being around our extended family and friends.” In fact, he argues, the opposite would be unhealthy.
“The inbreaking of the Holy Spirit speaks to that: quarantine and financial stimulus are not enough, even in a crisis, perhaps especially in a crisis,” he wrote. “There’s the true, the good and the beautiful to consider, there’s love, and the sacred.”
In a Pentecost reflection he sent to Asia News, Cardinal Raphael Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldean Church in this war-torn country said that the closures imposed by COVID-19 can be an opportunity for “meditation and reflection” on Christ’s teachings to mature “in faith and vocation.”
He also said that the crisis is “violent” but “transitory” and humanity will emerge “stronger.” Yet for this to be the case, he argued, religious leaders deepen their common commitment against extremism and violence.
Addressing the international community, Sako says that the job of governments is to “provide food, medicine and services” to the population instead of “making weapons and seeking to control the world economy.”
Coronavirus must be a “propitious occasion” to “improve human solidarity” and strengthen the principles of “mercy, love, peace, respect, justice” without looking at the professed faith, the color of the skin, gender.
Addressing religions leaders from Christianity, Islam, Judaism and other faiths, he called on them to “take the challenges of the coronavirus seriously ” for “cultural, economic and social change.”
He concludes saying that “we must treat extremism and every thought that drives violence” by continuing on the common path of “love, tolerance, coexistence and defense of human rights.”
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