A Strange Urbi et Orbi

Yesterday millions of people across the globe joined with Pope Francis in praying for an end to the COVID-19 outbreak. Many were able to watch online as, on a rainy Roman evening, a tired-looking figure dressed in white stood alone in the vastness of St Peter’s Square and addressed the city and the world with a message of hope and trust. The photograph taken by Reuters struck me as the most eloquent I’ve seen so far. It may be copyright, so I’ve put a link to it rather than incorporating it into this post as I would have liked — you can view it here: https://images.app.goo.gl/32mvFoajGQkVBLvr7.

For me that image expresses both the strength and the frailty of faith. What the pope said was a powerful reminder that Jesus is with us in the midst of the storm. I believe that (most of the time) and try to live my life by it. I do so in union with others. Anyone who has ever attended a papal Urbi et Orbi will know the sense of communion with others that being in Rome gives. We stand next to someone whose language we may not speak, whose customs are very different from our own, and yet we are one with them in Christ. That is the strength of faith.

COVID-19, however, has shown us the frailty of faith, too. When the churches are closed and the sacraments unavailable, when we cannot meet one another for worship or fellowship, then we stand like the pope, alone before the Lord. For some, that is a terrifying experience. Faith falters, and we feel abandoned. The less comforting passages of the Old Testament come to mind. We think of punishment and damnation, of drowning in a sea of pain and suffering. But as the pope said, COVID-19 is not a judgement on us, not a condemnation. It is, rather, an invitation to go further, deeper. We are all in the same boat — but with the Lord!

Paradoxical though it may seem, I believe that this Lent we are all being asked to stand alone before the Lord as Moses stood, interceding for his people; as Jesus stood, interceding for the whole of humanity. We are being invited to embrace a vocation much bigger and more demanding than we expected — one that is meant for us all, not just popes and nuns and those we might think of as the ‘professional pray-ers’. That strange but luminous Urbi et Orbi of yesterday was indeed for everyone.

Audio version

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11 thoughts on “A Strange Urbi et Orbi”

  1. It is indeed strange even daunting to stand alone before the Lord – not in church, not as part of a physical group led by the ‘professionals’.
    Yet here we are face to face with the height and depth of our faith – nothing visual or aural to distract us, or to excuse us from being fully present..

    A recognition, then, that we are also a part of that Cloud of Witnesses, in our Lord’s presence.

  2. I was seriously moved by it and found myself on my knees in my office.When Pope Francis blessed us with Our Lord I wept………not something I do easily.

  3. I don’t feel it as judgement or condemnation: we have an opportunity to learn something about ourselves, about others, and about the rest of the world; if we don’t, then it will have been time lost.

  4. That image of the Pope will surely be with us for ever. Just wonderful. The sense of awe, sadness, and profound faith that all will be well. Thank you. Amen.

  5. I have just been reading Mark 6 v47… Where Jesus walks across the stormy water and climbs into the boat with the struggling disciples, along with Ryle’s expositionary comments. And then I read your post! Well, I shall be pondering the idea of Christ sharing our ‘boat trip’. (And after he got into the boat the storm became calm). Thank you

  6. Dear Sister-in-Christ, I feel Blessed by what you have written, thankyou. I almost drew a sharp intake of breath when I saw that photo and you have starkly reminded me that I too will stand alone some day. I’ve stood in the crowds at two of Il Papa’s Sunday Blessings. There was indeed a tremendous sense of Unity as we waited (once in pouring rain) for him to speak to us in English. This sense of Unity was greater indeed as I suspect there were others like me, Baptised into a different Christian tradition. Every Blessing to you.

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