On Ash Wednesday this year, as we were all preparing to begin the Lenten season, none of us could have imagined that this time of penance would become such a challenging one for us. In a very short space of time we have found that our earthly security and freedom have been shattered by a pandemic.
Never before has any of us experienced such an exceptional situation. Civic measures that until a few weeks ago would have seemed unthinkable to us, we are now accepting as justified and reasonable. But how well is our faith and our sense of security in God going to withstand such unexpectedly shattering developments?
It is only natural that our first and foremost concern should be for those known to us who have fallen victim to this virus; that we should be thinking of the elderly whom we are no longer permitted to visit, or the grandchildren whom the older ones among us can no longer take into our arms. And for many people, including many of you no doubt, there are now the financial worries as well.
Moreover, we are now finding that we can no longer take for granted the fact that we can attend Holy Mass and receive Holy Communion. This is already the plight of many of our brothers and sisters in the mission lands, or those living under dictatorships. They have to struggle to be able to participate in Holy Mass and the Sacraments. And perhaps we too now have a much clearer understanding of what it means to live as the domestic church with our children and pray together with them. That is what they already have to do in places where there are no churches. And we at least have the technology that enables us to follow the religious services via live streaming or other electronic means. In this way it is made easier for us to remain in contact not only with God but also with our friends and with the global community of the Catholic faithful. Many of our suffering and persecuted brothers and sisters still have to manage without any of these technological aids.
During this Lenten season we will have to follow Jesus Christ into the desert in a much more immediate way. In our fears and concerns we are experiencing more clearly what it means at times to feel abandoned even by God. But we can always lift up our hearts in prayer for one another. And we can find strength in the certainty that the bridge of love and faith between our benefactors, the staff and co-workers of ACN and our project partners all over the world remains as strong as ever and that our shared prayer will help us to overcome this global crisis. So it is that in the last few days especially we have received countless messages from our friends in Senegal, Burkina Faso, Brazil, Haiti and the Philippines assuring us of their prayers for all the benefactors of ACN.
Our everyday life has changed dramatically. But let us take comfort in the old truism that reminds us that every crisis is also an opportunity. In this case it is an opportunity to use the extra time we suddenly have on our hands to grow inwardly, to come closer to God and at the same time to bring to him in our prayers all our near and dear ones – spouses, children, siblings and parents. And likewise of course all our brothers and sisters in the faith, both those around us and those in the wider world.
We can do this in our prayer, whether private or shared, and we can do so by offering up all our trials and anxieties in the coming weeks for all those whom for the present we cannot directly help or those whose plight, whether through sickness or loneliness, is still harder than our own. Let us also think of those families whose life is made particularly hard by their cramped living conditions. And please let us not forget our brothers and sisters in those countries where Christians continue even now to be persecuted and discriminated against – they often have far more serious worries than this virus. Let us for example continue to support with our Mass Stipends all those priests in our partner countries who will celebrate Holy Mass for our intentions.
Again and again over the past years it has been my privilege to thank you for your generosity and your help for our suffering brothers and sisters. Today I would like to urge you to help us further develop the three pillars of ACN‘s work, namely prayer, information and action, in creative fidelity to our founding mission, so that we can turn this crisis into an opportunity to bear witness to Jesus Christ.
It may be that the penitential season will last rather longer than the time envisaged in the calendar, but Easter will come nonetheless. Let us together use this time of trial in such a way that we may then experience still more profoundly the Mystery of the Resurrection.
This is my wish for each one of us.
I remain, united in prayer with you all