Vatican starts public Masses — amid COVID-19
WELL-BEING - Mylene Mendoza-Dayrit (The Philippine Star) - May 26, 2020 - 12:00am

Reports say that parishioners were emotional on the occasion of the first public Masses in the Vatican and churches in Italy, which began last May 18, on the 100th birthday of St. John Paul II.

Churches closed their doors to mass gatherings since Feb. 23 to control the spread of the pandemic. Devotees around the world turned to virtual celebrations of the Mass, but they anticipated going back to public worship with the parish.

The commentator from the Vatican News explained that, right after the 7 a.m. Mass (1 p.m. in Manila) celebrated by Pope Francis inside St. Peter’s Basilica, the doors would be opened for the first time since the lockdown and Masses for devotees would be held later that day. The special Mass was held at the altar where the saint is entombed.

Church volunteers have to regulate the number of people allowed inside the church to around 30-percent capacity only (which means 150 people for a church that normally has a crowd of 500). Hand sanitizer should be provided at the entrance, which ideally should be different from the exit points.

Holy water is not provided, the sign of peace is not given, participants should wear masks, seating at one-meter-apart is marked, priests distribute communion wearing masks and gloves, and Masses are held with a window in between for cleaning and people to sanitize.

Three traits that make St. John Paul II stand out

In the homily of Pope Francis, he said that there are three characteristics that summarize the life of St. John Paul II. First, he was a man of prayer. Second, he was close to the people. Third, he was a proponent of merciful justice.

Pope Francis said that, despite his many duties, John Paul II always found time to pray.

“He knew well that the first task of the bishop is to pray,” Pope Francis said, and John Paul II “knew this, and did it,” as prescribed by the teaching of St Peter in the Acts of the Apostles.

The charismatic St. John Paul II was also close to the people. He did not detach or isolate himself from them. He traveled around the world to seek them out. Pope Francis noted that John Paul followed the “example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, drawing near to both the great and the small, to those close by and those physically far away.”

Lastly, Pope Francis pointed out St. John Paul’s remarkable love of justice. He further clarified that “his love for justice was a desire for justice completed by mercy.” John Paul, he added, was also a man of mercy “because justice and mercy go together.”

John Paul, promoted the Divine Mercy devotion, and believed that God’s justice “had this face of mercy, this attitude of mercy.”

Pope Francis concluded his homily with the prayer “that the Lord might grant to all of us, and especially to pastors, the grace of prayer, of closeness, and the grace of justice in mercy, and merciful justice.”

The Pope’s catechesis on prayer

This May, Pope Francis started a new series in his General Audience on prayer. The pope stressed the importance of prayer, calling it the “breath of faith, a cry arising from the hearts of those who trust in God.”

“We see this in the story of Bartimaeus, the beggar from Jericho. Though blind, he is aware that Jesus is approaching, and perseveres in calling out: ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’  By using the phrase ‘Son of David,’ he makes a profession of faith in Jesus the Messiah,” Pope Francis said.

“In response, the Lord invites Bartimaeus to express his desire, which is to be able to see again. Christ then tells him: ‘Go; your faith has saved you.’ This indicates that faith is a cry for salvation attracting God’s mercy and power.”

“It is not only Christians who pray, but all men and women who search for meaning on their earthly journey. As we continue on our pilgrimage of faith, may we, like Bartimaeus, always persevere in prayer, especially in our darkest moments, and ask the Lord with confidence: ‘Jesus, have mercy on me. Jesus, have mercy on us!” the pope concluded.

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