Sunday, 5 April 2020

Viruses don't discriminate : Mass with the Pope at the Vatican

Viruses don't choose people by who they are, what they  believe or how important they think they are. In time of pandemic all of us are equal.  The worst virus of all is hate.  Indeed, we might not be in this situation hadn't we been exploited politically in the first place. Pope Francis said Mass on Palm Sunday at the Vatican. Usually it's packed with worshippers who come from all over the world.  This year, only key celebrants, carefully spaced apart.  In crisis, we are all alone. But thanks to international livestream we can all participate, including billions who don't have to share the religion but appreciate universal basic human values.

In his sermon, the Pope addressed  the COVID crisis and its impact.  Jesus was betrayed by his own friends, which is much more hurtful than being persecuted by strangers.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, he faced up to mortality, and made his choice: to save others by giving up his own physical life.  "My God, my God, why have thou abandoned me?".  But he wasn't  abandoned, however hard it must have felt. The Pope specifically mentioned the heroes who are putting themselves selflessly in danger, for the sake of others.  In  Britain  where the National Health Survice is dependent on immigrants, and the descendants thereof, that means Muslims, and others too. So much for blaming minorites.  Many others sacrifice, too, like transport workers, delivery systems personnel, social carers, underpaid cleaners, and ordinary people whodse jobs may never come back. And sadly the vulnerable, with health conditions who can't get basic needs fulfilled.  It's easy to say, like Our Dear Leader Boris, that "every family should be prepared to lose someone".  Indeed the statistics behind the Herd Immunity model are bogus.

In the emptiness of that grand basilica, the fundamentals of faith spoke out even more clearly than  before. The architecture means nothing in comparison to simple sincerity. No offertory procession which does matter, but not in these circumstances. Instead, a frail old man in his 80's performing the ceremony itself, by himself : an act of humility.  Those acres of white marble are symbolic : purity, and great endurance.  That's what faith's about - any true faith.  When the Pope blessed the poor and the sick on Ash Wednesday, many went apoplectic. But why should he hide and save himself ? The Jesus he believes in gave himself that others might live. Miss that and miss the whole message of love and compassion.  This year Holy Week is more personal and vivid than ever before, as those who wish can follow Jesus on his journey from death to life.


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