By Donna Orsuto
I have been joining Pope Francis for daily Mass these days at 7 a.m.
Not physically, but through live streaming.
For 40 years, I have had the privilege of being able to participate in Mass nearly every day. I say “privilege” because I am aware that for many people in other parts of the world, this is not an option. For me, daily Mass is not about mere personal devotion, but about being in communion with God and others. It is about connectedness. It is above all a space where I bring to the altar of the Lord those who have asked for my prayers and those who are most vulnerable in our world.
I am joining Pope Francis for daily Mass via live streaming because, with the coronavirus crisis, I can no longer attend Mass in person. All public gatherings have been banned in Italy, including public celebrations of the Eucharist. Along with Pope Francis and so many others around the world, I pray for all who have contracted this virus, for their loved ones, for overworked and stressed health care workers and public servants, for political leaders who have to make tough decisions, and for those who have died. I remember those who are paralyzed by fear in these days and those vulnerable people who experience unprecedented financial loss. I think of the refugees, the homeless, and the elderly.
Pope Francis reminded me yesterday morning also of the many children who are suffering from famine on a daily basis and the refugees who encounter obstacles of every type. The suffering in our world is much greater than the coronavirus crisis. Reflecting on this, I realize that, first of all, we can and must pray with confidence that God will bring healing and peace.
The Lenten daily readings are particularly powerful in these days of uncertainty. They are a firm compass to keep all of us focused on what is essential. They are a reminder that our lives are in God’s hands.
The first reading yesterday morning was particularly poignant and included the words, “Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is in the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
Yesterday’s Gospel about the Rich Man and Lazarus — as Pope Francis noted, the Rich Man is nameless — also invites us to look beyond our own needs and, especially, to find concrete ways to help those who are vulnerable: the poor, the refugees, the disabled, the sick, and the elderly.
We can and must find ways to help the most vulnerable at this time. Now. Today.
Paradoxically, though we are encouraged to keep a distance from one another, it is a time of great solidarity. It is an opportunity to build community and to be more attentive to one another. Yes, not only through the hashtag, #stayconnected, but also through picking up the phone and calling our neighbour. Now. Today. We need to “hear” each other’s voice and to “see” each other on our laptops. We also need the courage to reach out to those in need beyond our circle of family and friends.
Many friends have written and asked how we are coping at The Lay Centre. Don’t worry about us. Thank God, we are fine. While some scholars who were able have left, we are still a community of 15. We are trying to maintain a “normal” schedule of prayer, study, community life, and service.
We are punctuating the day with regular moments of prayer, including praying the Rosary in our chapel each evening at 6:30 p.m. — “una corona contro il coronavirus.” Originally, it was to be in solidarity with catechists in Northern Italy who pray the Rosary at the same time, but now it is broadened to include others. If you would like to join us, feel free . . . all you have to do is pray the Rosary at 6:30 p.m., Rome time.
In a newly renovated common space with the Passionists, which eventually will be set up as a chapel/conference room on the ground floor, we have temporarily set up a “library.” Scholars go there during the day to study and to follow their online university courses. Some scholars are also making amazing progress on their doctoral theses with hours of uninterrupted work.
Community life goes on with meals together as usual. Our office staff is working from home — “smart work” as it is called here — but we are in touch throughout the day. With clear goals and checks and balances, we are hopeful not only to make progress in our regular everyday work but to move ahead on our strategic planning for the next academic year.
Last but certainly not least, service to others is essential. Right now, at The Lay Centre, the whole community is pulling together to help each other. Charity begins at home and we must take care of those close to us in a responsible way. We are making sure that they are well, emotionally and physically, and that they are in touch with friends and family far and wide. Staying connected is important.
We are also reaching out to our network of friends in Rome and Italy particularly at this time, through phone calls and emails. Far more people than we can imagine actually live alone and are deeply grateful even for a short phone call.
The Lay Centre has always been connected with the local parish, Santa Maria in Domnica, just around the corner. Our community organizes monthly food collections to bring to the parish for distribution to poor families in the neighbourhood, which fortunately we had just brought last Saturday. We are in touch with the pastor to find other concrete ways to reach out even more in these days to those who are in need.
We are also part of the Diocese of Rome and on Wednesday joined spiritually Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, papal vicar of Rome, in entrusting the city to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Here is a link to the Mass that the cardinal celebrated alone but very much connected with his flock through the Holy Spirit and of course through live streaming.
So, let’s stay connected to one another, entrusting our cities, our countries, and our world to Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, and to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
you always shine on our path
as a sign of salvation and of hope.
We entrust ourselves to you, Health of the Sick,
who at the cross took part in Jesus’ pain, keeping your faith firm.
You, Salus Populi Romani,
know what we need,
and we are sure you will provide
so that, as in Cana of Galilee,
we may return to joy and to feasting
after this time of trial.
Help us, Mother of Divine Love,
to conform to the will of the Father
and to do as we are told by Jesus,
who has taken upon himself our sufferings
and carried our sorrows
to lead us, through the cross,
to the joy of the resurrection. Amen.
Under your protection, we seek refuge, Holy Mother of God. Do not disdain the entreaties of we who are in trial, but deliver us from every danger, O glorious and blessed Virgin.
(Video Message of Pope Francis, March 11, 2020. Translation by Catholic News Service, with slight edit.)
The Lay Centre Director
Rome, March 12, 2020
(Vatican News photo)