The Vatican Secretary of State said on Friday that he hoped churches closed because of the coronavirus crisis would be reopened “as soon as possible.”
In an interview published on the Vatican News website on April 3, Cardinal Pietro Parolin also said he was disturbed by reports of Catholics dying without the Sacrament of the Sick and expressed concern about the disease’s impact on impoverished countries.
The cardinal said: “The suspension of celebrating the liturgy was necessary to avoid large gatherings. However, in almost every city, churches remain open. I hope those that may have been closed will reopen as soon as possible. Jesus is present there in the Eucharist; priests continue to pray and celebrate Holy Mass for the faithful who cannot participate there. It is nice to think that the doors to God’s house remain open, just as the doors of our houses remain open, even though we are strongly encouraged not to go out except for essential reasons.”
Parolin acknowledged the suffering of Catholics who are currently deprived of the Sacraments because they are living under lockdown.
“I would like to say that I share their sorrow,” he said. “But I would like to recall the possibility of making a spiritual communion, for example.”
“Moreover, Pope Francis, through the Apostolic Penitentiary, granted the gift of special indulgences to the faithful, not only to those affected by COVID-19, but also to healthcare providers, family members and all those who care for them in various ways, including through prayer.”
“In a vigil like this one, there is also another aspect that must be highlighted and reinforced. This is possible for everyone: to pray with the Word of God; to read, to contemplate, to welcome the Word who is coming. With His Word, God has filled the void that frightens us in these hours. God communicated Himself in Jesus, the complete and definitive Word. We must not simply fill time, but fill ourselves with the Word.”
The cardinal said he was troubled by stories of Catholics dying alone without the consolation of the Sacraments.
“This is one of the consequences of the epidemic that, in a certain sense, upsets me,” he said. “I have read and heard dramatic and moving stories. When, unfortunately, a priest cannot be present at the bedside of a person who is dying, every baptized person can pray and bring comfort by virtue of the common priesthood received with the Sacrament of Baptism.”
“It is beautiful and evangelical to think that at this difficult time, in some way, even the hands of doctors, nurses, healthcare providers, who every day comfort, heal or accompany the sick in their last moments, become the hands and words of all of us, of the Church, of the family that blesses, says goodbye, forgives and comforts. It is God’s caress that heals and gives life, even eternal life.”
Parolin said that he was especially worried about how coronavirus would affect developing countries.
He said: “Unfortunately, we are facing a pandemic and the virus is spreading like wildfire. On the one hand, we see how many extraordinary efforts are being made by developed countries. Many sacrifices have been made by ordinary individuals, families and national economies, to effectively tackle the health crisis and combat the spread of the virus.”
“On the other hand, however, I must confess that I am even more concerned about the situation in the less developed countries. There, healthcare facilities are not able to ensure necessary and adequate care for the population in the event of a more widespread diffusion of the COVID-19 virus.”
“The Holy See’s vocation is to consider the entire world. It seeks not to forget those who are farthest away, those who suffer the most, those who perhaps struggle to gain the attention of the international media.”
He continued: “There is a real need to pray and to commit ourselves, all of us, so that international solidarity never fails. Despite the emergency, despite the fear, now is not the time to shut ourselves off from others.”
Parolin confirmed that there were currently seven coronavirus cases among Vatican employees. All of them had passed the critical phase and were now improving, he said.
The cardinal, who works closely with Pope Francis, said that the pope was searching for new ways to reach out to people suffering around the world.
“Pope Francis is seeking every way possible to be close to people throughout the world,” he said. “Contact with people has always been fundamental for him, and he intends to maintain this, even if in a new and unprecedented way.”
“The daily live broadcast of the Holy Mass from Santa Marta is a concrete example. The constant prayer for the victims, their families, healthcare personnel, volunteers, priests, workers, families is another. All of us collaborators are trying to help him maintain contact with the Churches in all the countries of the world.”
He explained that Vatican officials were seeking to ensure that as many people as possible could follow the liturgies of the Easter Triduum while confined to their homes.
“We have studied different options than the traditional ones,” he said. “In fact, it will not be possible to welcome pilgrims, as has always been the case. In full respect of the regulations to avoid infection, we will try to celebrate the great Rites of the Easter Triduum in order to accompany all those who, unfortunately, will not be able to go to church.”