English cardinal: Pandemic is inspiring a ‘revival of prayer’

Cardinal Vincent Nichols celebrates Mass in honor of Our Lady of Lourdes at Westminster Cathedral, London, on Feb. 13, 2021. Photo credits: Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.

CNA Staff, Feb 16, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- An English cardinal said on Saturday that the coronavirus pandemic is inspiring a “revival of prayer.”

Preaching at Westminster Cathedral in London on Feb. 13, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said that it was perhaps “not surprising” that people were increasingly turning to prayer, with the U.K. continuing to record hundreds of COVID-19 deaths per day.

“The father of a friend of mine spent some weeks in an intensive care unit, like so many others, being helped through this terrible disease. He said that he had never seen so many rosary beads before,” the archbishop of Westminster recalled at a Mass in honor of Our Lady of Lourdes.

“In the hour of need, we turn to her who is always close to us. The instinct to pray is deep within us. At times of need, it cannot be easily resisted.”

The U.K., which has a population of 67 million, has the fifth-highest recorded COVID-19 death toll in the world after those of the United States, Brazil, Mexico, and India.

More than 15 million people in the U.K. have received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, giving the country one of the world’s best vaccination rates. But Catholic doctors have criticized the treatment of the elderly and people with learning disabilities during the pandemic.

The cardinal, who turned 75 on Nov. 8, urged Catholics to offer to pray for those that they came into contact with during the crisis.

He said: “Indeed, we know that the fabric of faith is so important to our daily living, and we can give a reminder of this truth to others simply by saying that we are going to pray for them. This is an offer that is rarely rejected!”

With England still in lockdown, Nichols has encouraged Catholics to consider marking Ash Wednesday at home. The Vatican issued guidance last month about how priests can minimize the risk of spreading the virus while distributing ashes.

In a pastoral letter to Catholics in Westminster diocese, Nichols wrote: “Some churches will of course be open for the celebration of Mass as usual. But I have asked them not to make extra provision for Ash Wednesday.”

“We must be so careful and cooperative in the measures we must take, to protect ourselves and to protect others.”

He continued: “I now want to emphasize an important point. Receiving ashes is an outward sign of an inner step, a movement of the heart towards our beloved Lord.”

“This year I invite you to concentrate much more on this inner, spiritual movement than on its outward manifestation in the imposition of ashes.”

The letter, which was read out in churches in Westminster diocese on Feb. 13-14, was also posted on the website of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

Nichols, the bishops’ conference president, said: “My suggestion is this: celebrate Ash Wednesday at home, with your family, in the household or ‘support bubble’ of which you are a part.”

“Gather for a while. Read the prayer which I offer. Bless each other by making the sign of the cross on each other’s forehead. Spend some time praying in a way that you know.”

“But please, make this a prayer of your heart for God’s mercy upon this world struggling to cope with the terrible pandemic and the devastation it is bringing.”

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