– Aurelio Porfiri
I am sure every Catholic will remember mainly two things when this emergency of the coronavirus is over, and both are in relation to the Pope. One is the solitary walk in Via del Corso to visit the church of San Marcello, where there is a very famous and miraculous crucifix. The other one is what happened on March 27, which is the special Urbi et Orbi blessing, on an empty Saint Peter’s Square. There was something quite metaphysic in that image of the old Pope walking alone to reach the podium that is usually used for the audiences in the square. There was something sad, because we know what was the cause of this special moment of prayer, but for us these images are admonitory and like a warning. The Pope addressed the audiences connected through internet and other media with words that were quite heavy, with regards to the very peculiar moment we are in:
“For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. … It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story.…” (see next page for full text).
It is a strong speech, where it is clear that we are in need of conversion. That is the first and most important thing. “We are in need of salvation,” said the Holy Father. And it was significant in that what happened in Saint Peter’s square, the signs, the songs and prayers that reaffirmed the very Catholic identity – frequently disregarded – were present. Signs as the presence of a precious image of the Virgin Mary venerated as Salus populi Romani, salvation of the Roman people; and also, together with this image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the crucifix from San Marcello al Corso was in the square, as a sign of supplication to the Mother and His Son, under the images that are given to us from our glorious tradition. Also songs coming from Gregorian chant, including the gospel that was chanted by one of the members of the Sistine Chapel choir. And prayers like the one in the Eucharistic blessing given by the Pope looking at the empty square but in reality that moment was filled with the people following the ceremony online with great hope and with great sorrow and distress.
Yes, sorrow and distress, because every day the main event here in Italy is the bulletin of infected, deaths and recovered, a bulletin that still is quite disappointing. According to scientists, the speed of infections has slowed since March 20 or 21 but still the curve has not been flattened. This means that the way out of this tragic event is still not very close. For this reason, from what we have learned recently, the measures of containment (lockdown of the whole country) will be prolonged for another two weeks after the deadline in the first week of April. This means that we will have to stay home at least until April 19. This is not only a big problem for the economy, but now our politicians are also raising the issue of social unrest. For millions of people food depends on their daily jobs. If they don’t work they cannot eat, because maybe they don’t have enough savings to support them.
We are already seeing scenes of people trying to enter banks that are momentarily closed to get back some of the money from their accounts. I saw a video of a worker who warned the government that soon there will be an assault on supermarkets because they are exhausting food supplies and cannot feed their families. Also, you can imagine how bad is the psychological impact on people forced to be “under arrest” for a very long time. Moreover, there is the issue of those who are forced to stay the whole day for many weeks in dysfunctional families, where one of the members may be abusive to others, and where they have to live within a few square meters without the possibility of isolating themselves. I am reading a lot of these stories and if the containment measures do not end, I am afraid this may lead to a social catastrophe.
One of the themes this week were also the problems in the European Union, where the needed help for countries severely affected by this pandemic does not seem to be coming. And the problem, as everyone knows, is not only of Italy, because many countries have been hit hard by the pandemic, including Spain, Germany, France and Great Britain. As I have said previously, there will be a time when this will be over and when we should look at the “whys,” why something like this should happen. In this regard, the words of the Pope on March 27 were really prophetic. We all pray that this will all end as soon as possible before further emergencies destroy people’s lives.
We should ask ourselves why in our civilized world we had to deal with something like this, killing thousands of people and causing distress in billions more. You may remember when the HIV virus was announced to the world in the 80s. I was an adolescent then and I remember the terror that was overflowing from interviews and ads about this epidemic. But HIV is nothing compared to this, because in that case the likely transmission is through sexual contact and so people have ways to avoid being infected by avoiding risky behaviors. But in this case everyone can be potentially dangerous only by the fact of coming within a short distance of another.