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Brooklyn pastor is first Catholic priest in US known to die of coronavirus

CNA Staff, Mar 27, 2020 / 10:21 pm (CNA).- A Brooklyn parish announced the death of its pastor, Fr. Jorge Ortiz-Garay, who died of coronavirus at approximately 6 p.m Friday evening. The priest is the first in the U.S. known to have died from the virus.

Journalist Rocco Palmo was the first to report that the priest died from the virus, which is the cause of a global pandemic.

On March 24, the Diocese of Brooklyn announced that a priest at St. Brigid’s Parish in Brooklyn, where Ortiz was pastor, had contracted the coronavirus. On the same day, the parish posted on its Facebook page that Ortiz was “under observation in the hospital” and requested prayers “for his speedy recovery.”

On March 27, the parish posted on its Facebook page again:

“With a very sad heart, we inform you of the death of our dearest pastor, Father Jorge Ortiz Garay. We ask for your prayers for his eternal rest. We also ask you in a special way to pray for his parents, siblings, nieces and nephews who have lost a very special and loved person by his family, our community and many people around the country.”

Ortiz was born in Mexico City, and, according to his parish website, “At age 18, he joined the communities of the Neocatechumenal Way. It was through the involvement with this group that he felt his calling for the priesthood.”

He was ordained a priest in 2004 in Newark, and served parishes, along with missions of the Neocatechumenal Way, in New Jersey and New York City. He became pastor at St. Brigid's in 2019.

In addition to his parish and missionary work, Ortiz led Hispanic ministry initiatives in the Diocese of Brooklyn. He is remembered by friends as a fervent evangelist.

The first cleric in the U.S. known to have died of the virus was Deacon John-Sebastian Laird-Hammond, OFM, who died March 20. Worldwide, more than 60 priests and at least one bishop have died of the virus.

More than 100,000 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the US, and more than 1,700 have died. In the state of New York, which has become the epicenter of the pandemic of the virus in the US, more than 600 people have died.

 

Mass. bishop 'suspends' sacramental anointing while rescinding controversial policy

Washington D.C., Mar 27, 2020 / 08:51 pm (CNA).- After rescinding a controversial policy concerning sacramental anointing of the sick, the bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts told priests Friday afternoon that anointing of the sick is “suspended” within the Diocese of Springfield.

Earlier this week, Bishop Mitchell Rozanski authorized a change to norms for the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, permitting a nurse, rather than a priest, to conduct the physical anointing, which is an essential part of the sacrament.

“I am allowing the assigned Catholic hospital chaplains, standing outside a patient's room or away from their bedside, to dab a cotton swab with Holy Oil and then allow a nurse to enter the patient's room and administer the oil,” Rozanski told priests in an email March 25.

On Friday afternoon the diocese told CNA it had rescinded that policy.

In fact, Rozanski emailed Springfield priests Friday afternoon explaining that “After further discussion and review, I am rescinding my previous directive and temporarily suspending the Anointing of the Sick in all instances.” 

The sacramental anointing of the sick is conferred upon those Catholics who are in danger of death.
 
“The first grace of this sacrament is one of strengthening, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old age. This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

“This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also of the body if such is God's will. Furthermore, ‘if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven,’” the catechism adds.

The catechism explains that “as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived."

According to the Church’s canon law, parish pastors “have the duty and right of administering the anointing of the sick for the faithful entrusted to their pastoral office. For a reasonable cause, any other priest can administer this sacrament with at least the presumed consent of the priest mentioned above.”

Canon law specifies certain circumstances under which the sacrament is expected to be administered, among them are cases “of doubt whether the sick person has attained the use of reason, is dangerously ill, or is dead,” and when a sick person has “at least implicitly requested it when they were in control of their faculties.”

In his Friday email to priests, Rozanski noted that the diocesan Chrism Mass would be postponed, and told priests that “Should you run out of either the Oil of the Sick or Oil of the Catechumen, you may bless these oils to replenish your stock.”

The Church’s canon law says that bishops and their equivalents in law can bless the oil to be used in anointing of the sick, while other priests may do so “in a case of necessity, but only in the actual celebration of the sacrament.”

The Diocese of Springfield did not respond to questions regarding the intended length of Rozanski’s temporary suspension.

The bishop's Friday announcement came as the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ conference liturgy committee issued a memo to U.S. bishops, informing them that “with regard to the Anointing of the Sick, it is not possible for the anointing with oil to be delegated to someone else, such as a nurse or doctor.” That memo seemed to refute the liceity of Rozanski’s March 25 policy.

USCCB liturgy chair: No cell phones for confession, no delegation of sacramental anointing

Washington D.C., Mar 27, 2020 / 05:23 pm (CNA).- The chair of the U.S. bishops’ committee on liturgy wrote to U.S. bishops Friday, to clarify issues related to the sacraments of penance and anointing of the sick which have arisen during the Church’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“With regard to Penance, it is clear that the Sacrament is not to be celebrated via cell phone,” Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford wrote in a March 27 memo to U.S. bishops.

“In addition, in the present circumstances cell phones should not be used even for the amplification of voices between a confessor and penitent who are in visual range of each other. Current threats against the seal of confession also raise questions about information on cell phones,” Blair added.

“With regard to the Anointing of the Sick, it is not possible for the anointing with oil to be delegated to someone else, such as a nurse or doctor.

Blair explained to bishops that questions about those matters had been referred to the papal representative in the U.S., apostolic nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre. The nuncio consulted with Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments, who returned with the answers supplied by Blair to the bishops, according to the memo.

The memo came as bishops have worked to devise policies for sacramental ministry that respond to the tightening social restrictions imposed by civil authorities to slow the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. bishops have suspended the public celebration of Mass, and restricted the celebration of other sacraments.

The Archdiocese of Kansas City last week suggested that priests might use cell phones to amplify conversations during sacramental confession, if social distancing policies required a distance or barrier between priest and penitent. The archdiocese told priests that cell phones would be permissible for confession if priest and penitent were within eyesight. The archdiocese declined to respond to questions from CNA about this policy.

Priests in other parts of the country have also indicated their use of cell phones during sacramental confession undertaken with social distancing.

On Friday, the Diocese of Springfield, Mass, rescinded a policy that would have permitted nurses to physically anoint with oil Catholics seeking the anointing of the sick, while priests recited the requisite prayers, if the context of a hospital setting prohibited immediate contact between the priest and the ill Catholic.

In his memo, Blair suggested to bishops that “when it is not possible to administer the Sacrament[ of anointing], then what the Apostolic Penitentiary said about the Sacrament of Penance might be applied analogously to the Sacrament of the Sick: ‘Where the individual faithful find themselves in the painful impossibility of receiving sacramental absolution, it should be remembered that perfect contrition, coming from the love of God, beloved above all things, expressed by a sincere request for forgiveness (that which the penitent is at present able to express) and accompanied by votum confessionis, that is, by the firm resolution to have recourse, as soon as possible, to sacramental confession, obtains forgiveness of sins, even mortal ones.’”

More than 100,000 people in the U.S. have contracted the coronavirus, and more than 1,500 have died, as of Friday.

 

How CRS is helping refugees amid coronavirus

Dhaka, Bangladesh, Mar 27, 2020 / 04:11 pm (CNA).- There are nearly 700,000 refugees living in close quarters in the world's largest refugee settlements in Bangladesh, making them vulnerable as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic spreads. 

Caroline Brennan, Catholc Relief Services’ emergency communications director, told CNA that in areas where CRS is serving refugees, such as in Bangladesh, they are adapting their programs as quickly as possible so they are still relevant and safe during the pandemic.

“In this case, when we're looking at a virus like the coronavirus...there is such a heightened vulnerability in these settlements, where you have very large populations in extremely congested environments, and where multi-generational family members are living in really tight quarters," Bennan said.

Many countries have adopted stay-at-home orders and strict social distancing measures in response to the virus. For the Rohingya refugee population in Bangladesh, Brennan said, and in many other areas where refugees are, it can be almost impossible for people to distance themselves from others in this way.

There may be up to ten people living in a small space with nowhere else to go, she said, which means access to safe space is a problem, as well as access to the means for refugees to keep clean.

In addition, Bangladeshi authorities fear that the coming cyclone season will cause sewage to overflow into flimsy shelters and possibly spread the coronavirus, the New York Times reported this week.

Brennan said CRS, along with local partners, has been providing hygiene and sanitation supplies to the camps, as well as training and materials for local health institutions.

One of the biggest priorities, Brennan said, is simply communicating information about how to protect oneself from the virus, but doing so in the camps in a safe way.

"Obviously, we don't want to bring people together in large groups," she said.

"And often times, that's how you conduct programming— bringing people together for a training or bringing children together in a classroom."

CRS has had to adapt to using large posters, printed in several languages, to get the word out rather than gathering people in groups to convey information about how to keep themselves safe from the virus, Brennan said. 

Food in the refugee camps is often distributed in large groups, too, she said. CRS has adapted by doing more food distributions, but with smaller numbers of people, spread further apart, and with handwashing stations provided to lessen the chance of infection.

In some areas, refugees have regarded humanitarian workers with suspicion as possible carriers of the disease. Brennan said she is grateful that CRS has been present in many refugee areas for a while, which helps to build trust and allows CRS to communicate more effectively.

"We can convey information which can be received with credibility, and that's crucial," she said.

House passes coronavirus relief bill, Trump signs into law

Washington D.C., Mar 27, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The House on Friday passed a $2 trillion relief package in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the third major piece of legislation advanced by Congress in response to the outbreak.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by the House March 27, with the support of a majority of members. It was then presented to President Donald Trump, who signed the bill on Friday afternoon.

After the bill passed the House by voice vote, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) requested a recorded vote, which received insufficient support. He then objected, arguing that a quorum of members were not present to do business. After a count was made, a quorum was determined to be present in the chamber, and the bill passed.

House leadership had initially considered the use of unanimous consent, or passing the bill with no voiced opposition.

The bill authorizes direct checks to individual Americans of amounts up to $1,200 and an additional $500 per child, for individuals making up to $75,000 per year, heads of household making up to $112,500, or married couples filing jointly making up to $150,000 per year.

Payments would be tapered gradually above those thresholds, and phased out completely for individuals making more than $99,000 or joint filers making more than $198,000 a year.

The legislation also allocates around $250 billion to temporarily expand unemployment insurance, and provide grants and loans to small businesses and non-profits. It creates a new unemployment assistance program for contractors and “gig” workers normally not eligible for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, and adds an additional $600 per week in benefits for those already receiving state UI, or those part the new pandemic UI program.

Among its health provisions, the bill allows for health savings accounts (HSA) to pay for over-the-counter medications, contains a “Good Samaritan” provision so that volunteer health workers do not face liability, and provides $100 billion for hospitals and health care providers.

The Senate passed the bill late on Wednesday night by a vote of 96-0.

In a series of tweets on Friday morning, Massie said that “[t]he Constitution requires that a quorum of members be present to conduct business in the House,” and that if “millions” of Americans still had to go to work during a pandemic, “[i]s it too much to ask that the House do its job, just like the Senate did?”

Also criticizing the bill was Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) who called it a “corporate bailout” with few strings attached and that Congress was not voting on it with “eyes wide open.”

Massie also said the bill was full of “pork” and allowed the Federal Reserve too much authority to print money and distribute it, and that “[t]his stimulus should go straight to the people rather than being funneled through banks and corporations like this bill is doing.”

The bill provides $500 billion for a corporate liquidity program to be administered by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, which critics have called a corporate “slush fund.”

Updated: Springfield, Mass. diocese rescinds policy permitting nurses to anoint

Washington D.C., Mar 27, 2020 / 02:54 pm (CNA).- Update, 4:16 pm MT, March 27:

One hour after the publication of the story below, the Diocese of Springfield informed CNA that it has rescinded its permission for nurses to conduct the physical anointing during the celebration of the anointing of the sick. The diocese declined comment regarding the decision to rescind its policy.

 

A Massachusetts diocese authorized a change to norms for the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, permitting a nurse, rather than a priest, to conduct the physical anointing, which is an essential part of the sacrament.

“Effective immediately I am allowing the assigned Catholic hospital chaplains, standing outside a patient's room or away from their bedside, to dab a cotton swab with Holy Oil and then allow a nurse to enter the patient's room and administer the oil. If the patient is alert, the prayers may be provided via telephone,” Bishop Mitchell Rozanski of Springfield, Mass., told priests in a March 25 message.

“The hospitals need to control bedside access to patients so as to reduce transmission of COVID-19 as well as to preserve very limited supplies of masks and other personal protection equipment(PPE),” Rozanski explained, noting that the policy was devised in consultation with “pastoral services at both Mercy Medical and Baystate Medical centers.”

Mercy Medical Center is a Catholic hospital, and a part of Trinity Health, a Catholic healthcare system.

The Church teaches that only a priest may validly perform the sacrament.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Springfield told CNA March 27 the permission reflects diocesan policy “for now.” The spokesman said the policy was proposed by the Trinity Health system, and has also been proposed to other dioceses.

Trinity Health has not responded to questions from CNA. 

According to the Church’s canon law, “the anointing of the sick, by which the Church commends the faithful who are dangerously ill to the suffering and glorified Lord in order that he relieve and save them, is conferred by anointing them with oil and pronouncing the words prescribed in the liturgical books.”

“The celebration of the sacrament includes the following principal elements: the ‘priests of the Church’ - in silence - lay hands on the sick; they pray over them in the faith of the Church - this is the epiclesis proper to this sacrament; they then anoint them with oil blessed, if possible, by the bishop,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains.

“Only priests (bishops and presbyters) are ministers of the Anointing of the Sick,” the catechism adds.

The minister of the sacrament, who must be a priest for its valid celebration “is to perform the anointings with his own hand, unless a grave reason warrants the use of an instrument,” according to canon 1000 §2 of the Code of Canon Law.

The Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments has spoken on related questions regarding the sacrament of baptism. In a letter published in 2004 by the Canon Law Society of America, Cardinal Francis Arinze, then prefect of the congregation, explained that “if a minister administering the Sacrament of Baptism by infusion pronounces the words of the sacramental form but leaves the action of pouring the water to other persons, whoever they may be, the baptism is invalid.”

With regard to the anointing of the sick, in 2005, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explained “the Church has identified down the centuries the essential elements of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick...a) subject: the seriously ill member of the faithful; b) minister: "omnis et solus sacerdos"; c) substance: the anointing with blessed oil; d) form: the minister's prayer; e) effects: salvific grace, the forgiveness of sins, the relief of the sick person.”

“The Sacrament is not valid if a deacon or a layman attempts to administer it. Such an action would be a crime of simulation in the administration of a sacrament, to be penalized in accordance with can. 1379, CIC,” the congregation added.

Canon law establishes that a person who “simulates” a sacrament, or celebrates it invalidly, is subject to ecclesiastical discipline.

 

Ed Condon contributed to this report.

 

As dioceses face coronavirus money woes, Knights of Columbus offer line of credit

CNA Staff, Mar 27, 2020 / 02:17 pm (CNA).- The Knights of Columbus have offered a $1 million line of credit to Catholic dioceses to help dioceses and parishes suffering from the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is critical for us to support the Catholic Church in the United States at this time, so that the Church can continue to provide irreplaceable spiritual and charitable support, and can keep the staff supporting its mission and outreach employed,” Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson said March 26. “Our fund is designed specifically to help dioceses and their parishes weather this pandemic financially so that they can continue their important work – now and after the pandemic.”

The $100 million fund allows up to $1 million line of credit per Catholic diocese. The program will open March 30 and will be available for 60 days following.

The Knights of Columbus say the interest rate is “very competitive,” equal to the rate of a one-year Treasury bill plus 2.25%.

The line of credit will have a two-year term. At the end of the term, dioceses may convert the line of credit into a Knights of Columbus church loan fully amortized at the prevailing rate for a five, 10 or 20 year period.

These are the same terms offered by the Knights of Columbus' present ChurchLoan program

“The Knights of Columbus has been a key lender to parishes and dioceses for more than a century, and the ChurchLoan program remains a key source of financing for Catholic parishes and institutions,” the Knights of Columbus said.

The Knights of Columbus is a Catholic fraternal organization with nearly 2 million members in more than 15,000 local councils worldwide. Its members worked 76 million service hours in 2019 and helped donate more than $185 million in charitable causes.

Its life insurance branch claims about $109 billion life insurance in force. The insurance program helps fund the knights' charitable work and other efforts to support the Catholic Church.

The Knights have many grassroots initiatives responding to the needs of the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization has asked members to help provide food and other essentials to those in need. It has also urged members to take part in blood drives. The Knights of Columbus helped pioneer nationwide blood drives in the 1930s.

With churches closed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, parishes face dwindling cash flow from collections. It is doubtful whether churches will open for the crowds who typically attend Mass on Easter, as some models project the virus will peak at the time.

Some parishes and dioceses have tried to expand online giving. Catholic charitable outreach also faces shortages of funds at a time of great need.

At the same time, the coronavirus has prompted massive layoffs. About 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment and the unemployment rate could have already risen to 5.5%, the highest since 2015, the Washington Post reports.

Homeless in Madrid write letters of encouragement to coronavirus patients

CNA Staff, Mar 27, 2020 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- The residents of a homeless shelter in Madrid run by Diocesan Caritas have written letters of support to patients hospitalized with coronavirus at six hospitals in the region.

“Life puts us in difficult situations. You just have to stay calm and not lose faith, always after the dark tunnel comes the shining light, and even though it seems that we can’t find a way out, there’s always a solution. God can do anything,” says one of the letters of a shelter resident.

According to Madrid’s Diocesan Caritas, the residents empathize with the patients’ loneliness and fear and sent words of consolation for these difficult moments that many of them have gone through themselves.

In their letters, the homeless encourage the sick to leave “everything in God’s hands,” “He will sustain you and help you. Just trust in Him.” They also assure them of their support: “I know that all of us together we’re going to end this situation and everything is going to get better,” “Don’t fall back. Stay strong with dignity in the battle.”

The homeless being lodged at CEDIA 24 Horas are going through the coronavirus quarantine “like any other family,” and the shelter “is the home of those who at this time when they’re asking us to stay at home, have no home,” Diocesan Caritas said on their website.

Susana Hernández, who is in charge of projects at Diocesan Caritas to help the marginalized, said that “perhaps the most extreme measure that has been implemented is maintaining distance between people at a center where welcome and warmth are a sign, but we try to provide it with a surplus of smiles and gestures of encouragement.”

“At the beginning of the situation, we had an assembly with all the people housed at the center and explained to them all the measures that had to be taken with oneself and toward others and the measures that the center was also going to take to protect all of us. And every day a reminder is given on what to do and not to do,” she explained.

Like any other worker in contact with people, people working at CEDIA 24 Horas are at risk of infection and Hernandez stressed that while they regularly practice good hygiene at the center, at this time there is an even greater focus on it.

The state of emergency and accompanying measures have forced the cancellation of group and athletic activities as well as recreational outings they normally have at the center in order to give the people staying there a time to relax and relate to one other.

“We’re maintaining basic services, but we try to at least maintain the atmosphere of warmth and welcome. It’s hard sometimes to not be able to get together to do some activity for sharing, for mutual support, to do things that do us good and that we like, but in order to compensate we’re increasing how often we ask people individually ‘How are you doing? What can I do for you? Do you need something?’ Above all we try to make COVID-19 not separate us as people even though there’s two meters between us,” Hernandez said.

Dioceses permit meat on Lent Fridays due to coronavirus

CNA Staff, Mar 27, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Several dioceses across the United States have dispensed Catholics from the canonical requirement to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent, as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in certain food items becoming difficult to acquire.

The Archdioceses of Boston and Dubuque, as well as the Dioceses of Brooklyn, Houma-Thibodeaux, Metuchen, Pittsburgh, and Rochester, have all issued letters stating that Catholics who may find it difficult to obtain other foods are permitted to eat meat on the last two Fridays of Lent. 

In a letter to his diocese published March 26, Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodeaux, Louisiana, wrote that while the practices of fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and abstinence on other Fridays during Lent was the law of the Church, he understood that many people in his diocese may be experiencing difficulty with grocery shopping or obtaining meat alternatives. 

Since President Donald Trump announced a ban on travel between the United States and Europe on March 12, grocery stores have reported instances of increased buying of many items. 

While there is not a shortage in the production of food, toilet paper, or other necessities nationwide, in many places, items have been purchased quicker than supply chains are able to replenish stocks. 

In response to this, some grocery stores have implemented “senior-only” hours, for the elderly or otherwise vulnerable populations to go grocery shopping without fear of having to fight for products. 

“I am being mindful of this and have our people's best interest in my heart. Nevertheless, I am also aware that these Fridays of Lent will remain as days of penance and prayer,” said Fabre. 

The bishop said that those who are able to abstain from meat should continue to abstain, but “for those who sincerely find it difficult to embrace this practice, I hereby grant you dispensation from the obligation to abstain from eating meat for the remaining Fridays in Lent (4th and 5th weeks).”

Fabre instructed Catholics in his diocese to substitute the penance of abstaining from meat with “other forms of penance, especially works of piety and charity.” 

Other dioceses issued similar letters, citing concerns that parishioners may not have non-meat food on hand, be reliant on meal deliveries, or otherwise be concerned about leaving the house to go to the grocery store. 

“One of the effects of the current events is uncertainty regarding what food products are available on any given day. At this time, we are called to make the best of what we have at hand or is available for purchase,” said a letter from the Archdiocese of Boston. 

“Many people are using what they have stored in their freezers and on their shelves. Others are depending upon pre-packaged meals or food delivered through support agencies, which are providing an important service for individuals and families in our communities, especially for children and our senior citizens,” the letter added. 

Those who are still able to abstain from meat at this time are encouraged to continue this practice.

The Archdiocese of Boston clarified to CNA that, unlike the other dioceses who have dispensed their congregations from the requirement to abstain from meat on Lenten Fridays, Catholics there are further dispensed from the requirement to abstain from meat on Good Friday if they are unable to obtain meat-free foods. 

Examples given as substitute penance include abstention from desserts or other food items, volunteering time, donating to charity, or increased personal prayer. 

The cross is our hope: Pope gives Urbi et Orbi blessing during coronavirus

Vatican City, Mar 27, 2020 / 12:19 pm (CNA).- On Friday, before an empty and rain-covered St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis held Eucharistic adoration and gave an extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing, praying for the world during the coronavirus pandemic which has killed more than 25,000 people.

The holy hour March 27 included a reading from the Gospel and a meditation by Pope Francis, who spoke about faith and trust in God during a time when people fear for their lives, as did the disciples when their boat was caught in a violent storm.

“We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love,” Francis said.

Embracing Christ’s cross, he said, “means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time.”

“Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope,” the pope stated.

Pope Francis held Eucharistic adoration on an altar set up under the portico in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. Also present nearby was a miraculous crucifix which the pope visited March 15 to pray for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.

The crucifix, which usually hangs in San Marcello al Corso, was venerated as miraculous by Romans after it was the only religious image to survive unscathed from a fire that completely gutted the church on May 23, 1519.

An image of the Byzantine icon of Mary as Salus Populi Romani, was also brought to the square for veneration during the prayer.

At the conclusion of the prayer, Pope Francis gave an extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing, and gave benediction with the Blessed Sacrament while the bells of the basilica rang.

In his meditation, Pope Francis entrusted everyone to the Lord through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, “from this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world.”

“Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts,” he prayed. “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.”

“Tell us again: ‘Do not be afraid’ (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, ‘cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us.’”

God’s call to be converted resounds in our hearts this Lent, he said. This is a time, he said, “to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.”

In this moment, “how many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons,” Francis said.

He noted that in the Gospel, the disciples are afraid of the storm, but Christ sleeps in the boat. The disciples lacked faith not because they stopped believing in Christ, but because they think he does not care about what happens to them.

“‘Do you not care about me?’ It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement,” Francis said.

The storm, he said, “exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities.”

“‘Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?’ Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us.”

The extraordinary Urbi et Orbi also included the opportunity for Catholics to receive a plenary indulgence by joining via the media, praying for the intentions of the pope, and having perfect contrition, as well as the will to receive sacramental confession and the Eucharist as soon as possible.

Pope Francis said during the hour of prayer that part of faith is realizing we are in need of salvation, that we are not self-sufficient.

“We need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars,” he said. “Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck.”