To the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences,
To the Bishops in Charge of Health Pastoral Ministry
To the Socio-Sanitary and Pastoral Operators,
To the Civil Authorities
To the Sick and Their Families,
To the Volunteers and to All Persons of Good Will,
Peace be with you!
We are living days of intense preoccupation and growing anxiety, days in which human fragility and the vulnerability of the presumed technical security are undermined at the global level by the Coronavirus (COVID-19), before which all the most significant activities are bowing, as the economy, entrepreneurship, work, trips, tourism, sport, and even worship, and its infection also limits notably freedom of space and movement. The Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development wishes to unite itself to the voice of the Holy Father, thus renewing the Church’s closeness in the animation of the Health Pastoral to all those suffering from the infection of COVID-19, to the victims and their families, as well as to all health workers committed on the front line, deepening every energy in caring for the people affected and in bringing them relief.
Thinking particularly of the countries most affected by the infection, we unite ourselves to them remembering them in our prayer, we unite ourselves to the work of the Civil Authorities, of volunteers and of all those committed to halting the infection and to averting the risk for public health and the growing fear that such a rampant epidemic is generating. We also encourage the lay and Catholic, national and international health structures and organisations to continue to offer synergistically the necessary assistance to people and populations, as well as to carry out all efforts that are rendered indispensable to find a solution to the new epidemic, in keeping with the indications of the WHO and of the national and local political Authorities.
In this circumstance, be it the Holy Father be it several Heads of State have shown solidarity to the countries most affected, donating medical and health products and financial aid. We hope that all will continue in this work of support, because in face of such an emergency, many nations, especially those with weak health systems, will find themselves overwhelmed by the effects of the virus and, perhaps, they won’t be able to address the requests for care and proximity of their nations. We hope that this moment of great need can be a propitious time to reinforce international solidarity in the sharing of instruments and resources.
This incidence of the virus, as any emergency situation, certainly evidences in the main the grave inequalities that characterise our socio-economic systems. There are inequalities of economic resources, of fruition of health services, as well as qualified personnel and of scientific research. In the face of this gamut of inequalities, the human family is asked feel itself and live really as an inter-connected and inter-dependent family. The incidence of the Coronavirus has given proof of this global relevance, having initially affected only one country to then spread throughout the globe.
For each person, believer or non-believer, this is a propitious time to understand the value of brotherhood, of being connected to one another indissolubly, a time in which, on the horizon of faith, the value of solidarity, which gushes from the love that sacrifices itself for others, may “help us to see the “other” — person, people or Nation — not as any instrument [. . . ] but as someone “like” us, a “help” (Cf. Genesis 2:18.20), to render participant, equal to us, in the banquet of life, to which all men are equally invited by God” (SRS 39, 5). The value of solidarity also needs to be incarnated. We think of our neighbour, of our office colleague, of our school friend, but especially of the doctors and nurses that risk contamination and infection to save those infected. These workers live and point out to us the meaning of the mystery of Easter: donation and service.
In his Message for Lent 2020, Pope Francis already exhorted us to contemplate with a renewed heart the mystery of Easter, mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, and of taking up freely and generously His giving Himself: His suffering to death as gift of love for humanity. The embrace of Jesus’ suffering, Pope Francis says to us, becomes an embrace of all the suffering of our world, including all those that are affected by COVID-19. They are today the expression of the suffering Christ, and in the same way of the evil that happened in the parable of the Good Samaritan; they need from humanity concrete gestures of proximity. People that suffer, be it by infection or something else, are a ‘laboratory of mercy,” in fact, the versatility of suffering requires different forms of mercy and care.
At the beginning of this Lenten itinerary for many deprived of some communal liturgical signs, such as the celebration of the Eucharist, we are called to a journey more rooted in what sustains the spiritual life: prayer, fasting and charity. May the widespread commitment to contain the diffusion of the Coronavirus be accompanied by the commitment of every individual faithful to the greater good: the re-conquest of life, the defeat of fear, the triumph of hope. We recommend to the most tested communities not to live all as a privation. If we cannot meet in our assemblies to live our faith together, as we usually do, God offers us the occasion to be enriched, to discover new paradigms, and to rediscover our personal relationship with Him. Jesus reminds us: ”But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).
How many times Pope Francis has invited us to keep at hand the Scriptures! Prayer is our strength; prayer is our resource. Behold, then, the favourable moment to rediscover God’s paternity and our being children: “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” ( 2 Corinthians 5:20), says Saint Paul, and it’s the Message for Lent this year of which Pope Francis has made us a gift. What providence!
Let us pray then to God the Father to have our faith grow, to help the sick in the healing and to support the health workers in their mission. Let us commit ourselves to avoid the stigmatisation of one who is affected: sickness knows no boundaries of colour of skin; instead, it speaks the same language. Let us cultivate the “Wisdom of the heart”: which is an “attitude infused by the Holy Spirit” in one who opens himself to the suffering of brothers and recognises in them the image of God. So, as Job, we can affirm: ”I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame” (Job 29:15). Thus we will succeed in serving the one who suffers, accompanying him in the best way and being solidary with the needy without judging them.
We ask the political and economic authorities not to neglect social justice and support to the economy and to research, now that the virus is creating, unfortunately, a new “economic crisis.” We will continue in all ways to support the efforts of the health workers and the health and medical structure in various parts of the world, especially in the most remote and in greater difficulty, trusting also in the industrious solidarity of all.
Let us ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate the efforts of the scientists, of the health workers and of the governments. And we entrust all the populations affected by the infection to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mother of humanity.