In what was could be considered a minor historical day for the Holy Father and Vatican, Pope Francis held his first weekly general audience in the presence of faithful since last March. Because of the coronavorus pandemic, the Pope has presided over these weekly events via live streaming for months, coming to the faithful from the papal library in the Apostolic Palace.
It was obvious from a number of things for those who attended the audience or followed on television, that the Vatican had carefully thought out how to accommodate the faithful without endangering anyone’s health. Two sections were marked off in the courtyard by wooden barriers, each section capable of seating 250 people at the current social distancing requirements.
This is from Tuesday afternoon:
Pilgrims could start going through security at 7:30 for the audience that began at 9:30 am. After security they would have temperatures taken, hands had to be sanitized and then there was the long climb up several huge, deep staircases to reach the San Damaso courtyard. I am sure there were many breathless people at the final step! I did see one baby carriage in the crowd as I watched tv coverage and had to wonder how it got to the courtyard (was elevator use allowed?).
All pilgrims wore facemasks as required but the Holy Father did not as he greeted people, shook a few hands, caressed several young people and did the elbow-to-elbow greeting so popular in Italy. The Secretariat of State monsignori who gave the summaries of the papal catechesis did not wear masks either. Nor was the microphone sanitized after each use has been suggested in such gatherings (as far as I could tell, although it might have been cleaned and simply not shown on tv).
The Holy Father seemed really very happy to be back in the presence of the faithful, as could be seen both before and after the catechesis in his interaction with the faithful. The courtyard is indeed a much more intimate setting for such a gathering than is St. Peter’s Square or even the Paul VI Hall which can seat 7,500 people.
SOLIDARITY A MUST IN A POST-COVID WORLD
ope Francis, continuing his reflections on the current pandemic, began by noting “we have seen how closely connected we are, dependent on one another precisely because we were created by God and share a common home. We can only emerge stronger from the present crisis if we do so together. The Church’s social doctrine thus speaks of the need for the virtue of solidarity.” (following photos by EWTN’s Daniel Ibanez)
“The word ‘solidarity’ is a little worn and at times poorly understood,” said the Pope, “but it refers to something more than a few sporadic acts – the odd sporadic act – of generosity. Much more! It presumes the creation of a new mindset; a new mindset that thinks in terms of community and the priority of life of all over the ‘appropriation of goods by a few’. This is what ‘solidarity’ means.”
“Think of the account of the Tower of Babel,” said Francis. “which describes what happens when we try to reach heaven – that is, our destination – ignoring our bond with humanity, creation and the Creator. It is a figure of speech. This happens every time that someone wants to climb up and up, without taking others into consideration. Just myself, no? Think about the tower. We build towers and skyscrapers, but we destroy community. We unify buildings and languages, but we mortify cultural wealth. We want to be masters of the Earth, but we ruin biodiversity and ecological balance.”
Still on the image of the Tower of Babel, Pope Francis said, “I remember a medieval account of this ‘Babel syndrome’ that occurs when there is no solidarity. This medieval account says that, during the building of the tower, when a man fell – they were slaves, weren’t they? – and died, no-one said anything, or at best, ‘Poor thing, he made a mistake and he fell’.
“Instead,” he continued, “if a brick fell, everyone complained. And if someone was to blame, he was punished. Why? Because a brick was costly to make, to prepare, to fire… All of this. It took time to produce a brick, and work. A brick was worth more than a human life. Every one of us, think about what happens today. Unfortunately, something of the type can happen nowadays too. When shares fall in the financial markets, all the agencies report the news – we have seen it in the newspapers in these days. Thousands of people fall due to hunger and poverty, and no-one talks about it. Pentecost is diametrically opposed to Babel.”
“In the midst of crises,” concluded Francis, “a solidarity guided by faith enables us to translate the love of God in our globalised culture, not by building towers or walls – and how many walls are being built today! – that divide, but then collapse, but by interweaving communities and sustaining processes of growth that are truly human and solid. And to do this, solidity helps.