ROME – Speaking the day after the Diocese of Rome announced the closure of all churches in the city until April 3, even for private prayer, Pope Francis on Friday morning warned that “drastic measures aren’t always good” and prayed that pastors will find ways not to leave the People of God alone.
“In these days, we remember the sick, the families, who’re suffering from this pandemic. I’d also like to pray today for pastors, who have to accompany the people of God in this crisis,” the pope said at the beginning of his daily morning Mass in the chapel of the Santa Marta residence on Vatican grounds where he lives.
The daily Mass, held before a small congregation maintain the one-meter distance recommended by Italian authorities to prevent transmission of the coronavirus, is being livestreamed each morning by the Vatican.
“May the Lord give [pastors] the strength, and also the capacity, to choose the best ways to help. Drastic measures aren’t always good,” Francis said.
“For this reason, let’s pray that the Holy Spirit give pastors the capacity for pastoral discernment, so they find measures that don’t leave the holy faithful people of God alone, so the people of God feel accompanied by their pastors and draw comfort from the Word of God, the sacraments, and prayer.”
The decision to shutter Roman churches was taken by Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, the pope’s hand-picked Vicar of Rome.
Church historian Father Johannes Grohe of Rome’s Santa Croce University, sponsored by Opus Dei, told Crux that such a step is unprecedented, in part because in earlier era of history, before the nature of viral diseases was understood, people would usually gather in churches in large numbers to pray for relief.
Francis did not specify how pastors are to “accompany” people despite the restrictive measures now in place in all of Italy, which includes the suspension of all public Masses and other rituals until at least April 3.
The restrictions come as Italian authorities announced Thursday evening the total number of cases in the country has reached 15,113 and the number of dead crossed the 1,000-person threshold, reaching 1,016. The number of those recovered from the virus now stands at 1,258. The northern region of Lombardy remains the hardest hit; in Lazio, the central region in which Rome is located, there have been just 200 cases so far, with 19 recoveries and 9 deaths.
In his homily Friday morning, Pope Francis focused on the day’s Gospel reading in which Jesus tells a parable involving a farm-owner who allows people from the countryside to work the land in exchange for a share of the harvest, but who kill his servants and eventually his son when they go to collect.
Francis said that attitude is emblematic of an approach to God’s generosity of seeing it as one’s own property, not as a gift to be shared, saying it’s the root of “moralisms, rigidity and clericalism,” and that it ends by turning a gift into an “ideology.”
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