By Robin Gomes
“I walked like this, alone, thinking about the loneliness of so many people ... an inclusive thought, a thought with the head and the heart, together”. These are the words of Pope Francis in the book which recalls the extraordinary moment of prayer that he held in the evening of March 27 last year in a desolate and rain-drenched St. Peter's Square, pleading that humanity may be saved from the clutches of the deadly coronavirus. The event streamed live was followed by crowds across the globe.
The book, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”, is a short interview with the Pope by Monsignor Lucio Adrián Ruiz, Secretary of the Dicastery for Communication, in which the Holy Father relives that memorable event through photos. The title of the book, which can be purchased here, taken from the Gospel of Mark (Mk 4:40), are the words of Jesus to his terrified disciples who wake him from sleep in the boat that is tossed about in the stormy sea. The Vatican Publishing House (LEV) will make the book available for the public on December 17, when the Pope turns 85.
The first part of the book includes the impassioned and powerful plea of the Pope to God for humanity at the March 27 event. The second part contains the development of that reflection in the light of the Gospel and the social doctrine of the Church that emerged in the months following that event. He encourages people to make the pandemic an opportunity to rethink the meaning of life and existence, to come out of it better and not worse, and to allow oneself to be questioned and to convert.
All in the same boat
"Two things came to mind: the empty square, the people united at a distance, ... and on this side, the migrant boat, that monument ...,” the Pope recalls in his interview. “And we all are on the boat, and in this boat, we don't know how many will be able to disembark ... A whole drama in front of the boat, the plague, the loneliness ... in silence ....", the Pope remarks, stressing that he did not feel alone but in contact with the people at that moment.
A particularly poignant moment of that March 27 evening came when after a moment of silent prayer in front of the drenched crucifix, he kissed the feet of Jesus. “Kissing the feet of the Crucifix,” the Pope says, “always gives hope.” Jesus “knows what it means to walk and He knows quarantine because they put two nails there to hold him in place". "The feet of Jesus are a compass in people's lives, when they walk and when they stand still. The feet of the Lord touch me a lot ...,” the Pope adds. Apart from the crucifix in that deserted square was also the image of Mary Salus Populi Romani (Mary the health of the Roman People). The prayer service was a sort of a stop in time when Christians worldwide were glued to the event in St. Peter’s Square, to invoke God's mercy and to rethink life in a personal and global way.
Reliving the memory
The two parts of the book on prayer and teaching that are deeply linked to each other, also provide QR code links to a rich variety of the Vatican’s media content.
In the same vein as the Pope’s message for World Communications Day 2020, the book by the Dicastery for Communication also encourages the art of telling and sharing constructive stories that make us realize we are all brothers and sisters, part of a story that is larger than ourselves. The aim is not only to re-enact a past event but to propose a memory that becomes flesh today to bear fruit.
In the conclusion to the first part, Monsignor Ruiz explains that the March 27 event was "a celebration that reflects history", because it presents the human drama to the God of mercy. It is also history because the answer of God is His presence in the midst of His people. "The present moment,” the secretary of the Dicastery explains, “is not only marked by this virus but is fundamentally sealed by the presence of God”. This must be remembered and narrated so that it can be fixed in memory and be part of the "great history of God's journey with humanity".
March 27 follow-up
The second part includes several interventions of the Pope in the months following the March 27 prayer service, urging a change in direction and leading up to the Pope’s latest encyclical Fratelli tutti, which also includes passages related to the global pandemic.
In this regard, the Pope has delivered a new cycle of catechesis on healing the world during his weekly general audience from August 5 to September 30, 2020. These reflections on transforming the roots of our physical, spiritual and social diseases, addressed issues such as the common good, the preferential option for the poor, care for the common home and subsidiarity. Focusing on Christ is central, remembering that no one is saved alone, as the pandemic has made it evident in a concrete way.