A tiny coronavirus attacks a region of far-away China and in a matter of months it imposes its dread and threat on the whole world. It makes sophisticated weaponry useless and redundant. It overstrains scientific knowledge and presents a challenge in finding a solution.
From whatever source the coronavirus came, what is important is the lesson that it teaches us. We immediately perceive that suffering, pain, sickness, and death are common to all of us without regard to color, race, creed, culture, position or wealth.
This is no time to judge and condemn. It is, however, a time to ask “why” and “how,” in the light of our attitude towards the environment. If we perceive the coronavirus as nature reacting in order to recover from the damage humanity has done to her, then I have to ask, “How am I contributing to this situation, either positively or negatively?” The healthy among us are no less guilty than those infected by the virus. “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans…Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them…?” Jesus asks (Luke 13:1-5).
We are all at risk – individually, socially, nationally and internationally! In Italy, liturgies in the basilicas, cathedrals and parishes have disappeared. The joy of weddings has been suspended and the dead are being buried almost in isolation. This situation dries up one’s inner peace and joy. Worse still, the virus continues to spread.
In his day, St. Francis of Assisi did great justice to lepers. He served them; he recognized the dignity they possessed and saw in them the image of God (cf. Testament, FF 110). Our friars all over the world are showing this justice—primarily in Italy—and in all the other countries that have been seriously hit by this virus. We are in solidarity with all those affected. We express our sympathy and condolences to all the bereaved families; we share their sufferings in our hearts. In the spirit of our Seraphic Father, we shall not discriminate against our quarantined brothers and sisters. We stand with Italy, the land of the Poverello, offering Lenten prayer and fasting. We pray that through the intercession of the Immaculate Mother and our Seraphic Father Francis, the world may be relieved of the scourge posed by this dreadful virus.
This already an unprecedented Lent in Italy. Basilicas, cathedrals, parishes and shrines are empty. Nevertheless, homes are full of parents and children. While our Sister, Mother Earth takes her Sabbath rest, the level of smog has gone down immensely; household expenditures have lessened, and some items that had been hoarded are finally being used. In only a month, the culture of waste has been drastically reduced. Could this be a “Lent of Ecology” where we learn to live without superfluity? Doesn’t it affirm Pope Francis that “less is more” (Laudato Si’ 222).
Friar Joseph BLAY, Delegate General for GPIC