Before I write about the prayer and address, I have to write about the initial imagery because it will last with me for a lifetime. There was Pope Francis walking across St. Peter’s Square, dressed in white, alone. It was pouring rain and twilight in Rome.
Pope Francis prayed in front of two icons. The first was the painting of Mary, Salus Populi Romani, which is usually housed in the basilica of St. Mary Major. This icon of Our Holy Mother holding Christ is credited to Saint Luke and is considered a miraculous image. The second icon he prayed before was a crucifix usually kept in the Church of San Marcello in the city’s Via del Corso. In the plague of 1522, this crucifix was carried from the Church of St. Marcellus to St. Peter’s Basilica. When the crucifix returned from the procession, the plague had stopped completely.
The symbolism of praying before these two icons was overwhelmingly powerful. The blessing he gave was just as powerful. Pope Francis focused on a passage from the Gospel of Mark. The Scripture tells of Jesus and his disciples being on a boat in a “furious squall.” Jesus is awoken and asked by his disciples to calm the storm. Pope Francis talked about how society has become so “busy” that we have ignored the injustices and “storm” growing around us. Now, just as in the Scripture, his disciples call out for the Lord to wake up and help us.
Pope Francis concluded his blessing by stating “Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm.”
Christ will bring peace to this pandemic. It is up to us to pray unceasingly with our families and put our faith in him to “calm the storm.”