In an interview with papal biographer Austen Ivereigh, published today at Commonweal, Pope Francis gave some details about his life under the COVID-19 lockdown, and addressed some of the spiritual concerns prompted by the pandemic and the international response to it.
“I’m living this as a time of great uncertainty,” the Holy Father said. About life within the Vatican under lockdown, he said:
We are sticking to the measures ordered by the health authorities. Here in the Santa Marta residence we now have two shifts for meals, which helps a lot to alleviate the impact. Everyone works in his office or from his room, using technology. Everyone is working; there are no idlers here.
How am I living this spiritually? I’m praying more, because I feel I should. And I think of people. That’s what concerns me: people. Thinking of people anoints me, it does me good, it takes me out of my self-preoccupation. Of course I have my areas of selfishness. On Tuesdays, my confessor comes, and I take care of things there. …
My major concern—at least what comes through my prayer—is how to accompany and be closer to the people of God. Hence the livestreaming of the 7 a.m. Mass [I celebrate each morning] which many people follow and appreciate, as well as the addresses I’ve given, and the March 27 event in St. Peter’s Square. Hence, too, the step-up in activities of the office of papal charities, attending to the sick and hungry.
Asked what he saw as the mission of the Church right now, Pope Francis responded, “The people of God need their pastor to be close to them, not to overprotect himself. The people of God need their pastors to be self-sacrificing.”
While noting, “It’s not easy to be confined to your house,” Francis also encouraged the faithful, “Don’t run away, don’t take refuge in escapism.”
The Holy Father said his preeminent concern is for the poor, and for the elderly who are already particularly vulnerable to the “throwaway culture” he has described many times in the past. “This is the moment to see the poor. Jesus says we will have the poor with us always, and it’s true. They are a reality we cannot deny. But the poor are hidden, because poverty is bashful…. They are there but we don’t see them: they have become part of the landscape; they are things.”
Francis offered words of encouragement and hope, recognizing “the saints who live next door” and who continue to keep society functioning by offering service—“doctors, volunteers, religious sisters, priests, shop workers.” He referenced the Aeneid, in which Aeneas, after the destruction of Troy, has two choices: “to remain there to weep and end his life, or to follow what was in his heart, to go up to the mountain and leave the war behind.”
“This is what we all have to do now, today,” Francis said. “To take with us the roots of our traditions, and make for the mountain.”
The full interview can be read here.
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