By Anne Kurian

“You were the pillars of the whole country,” said Pope Francis, paying tribute to Italian carers on receiving a delegation from Lombardy on June 20, 2020, one of the regions most affected by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. He encouraged not “to forget quickly that we have need of others,” and to come out of this crisis ”spiritually and morally stronger.”

In his address, the Holy Father thanked at length all those carers who were “on the front line to give arduous and at times heroic service,” being “silent craftsmen of the culture of closeness and tenderness.” “The world was able to see all the good you did in a very trying situation. Even though exhausted, you continued to be engaged with professionalism and abnegation. And this gives birth to hope.”

To “build tomorrow” Pope Francis called for “engagement, the strength and the devotion of all.” “It’s about sharing innumerable testimonies of generous and free love, who left an indelible imprint on consciences and on the fabric of society, teaching us how closeness, care, sacrifice is necessary to nourish fraternity and civil coexistence.”

Finally, the Pontiff greeted the priests “who stayed by the side of their people in considerate and daily sharing,” with creativity and “obedience,” pointing the finger, however, at “adolescent” attitudes.

Here is the translation of the Pope’s address.

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Pope Francis’ Address

Dear Brothers and Sisters, welcome!

I thank the President of the Lombardy region for his words. I greet warmly the Archbishop of Milan, the Bishops of Bergamo, Brescia, Cremona, Crema and Lodi, and the other Authorities present. I greet the doctors, the nurses, the health agents, and those of Civil Protection and the Alpine hunters. I greet the priests and the consecrated persons. You have come representing Lombardy, one of the most affected regions of Italy by the COVID-19 epidemic, with Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna, and Venice. Today I embrace in thought all those regions. And I greet the representatives of the “Spallanzani” Hospital of Rome, the medical establishment that spent itself in the fight against the virus.

In the course of those tormented months, the different realities of Italian society made an effort to address the health crisis with generosity and engagement. I’m thinking of the national and regional institutions, of the Communes; I think of the dioceses and the parish and religious communities, of the numerous volunteer services. We felt more than ever our gratitude for the doctors, the nurses, and all the health agents, on the front line to render an arduous and at times heroic service. There were visible signs of humanity that warmed the heart. Many of them fell sick and a few, unhappily, died, in the exercise of their profession. We remember them in prayer with much gratitude.

In the whirlwind of an epidemic with devastating and unexpected effects, the reliable and generous presence of the medical and paramedical staff constituted a sure point of reference, first of all for the sick, but in a very special way for relatives, who didn’t have the possibility to visit those they loved. And so they found in you, carers, almost members of the family, capable of uniting at the same time their professional competence and that care that is the expression of concrete love. The patients often felt they had “angels” by their side, who helped them to regain their health and, at the same time, consoled, supported, and at times accompanied them to the threshold of their final encounter with the Lord. That care, supported by Hospital chaplains, witnessed God’s closeness to those suffering. They were silent architects of the culture of closeness and tenderness – the culture of closeness and tenderness. And you were witnesses, including in small things: in caresses . . . including by telephone, to connect an elderly person who was dying with his/her son, with his/her daughter, to say goodbye to them, to see them one last time. . . , small gestures of creativity and love . . . this does us all good — a testimony of closeness and tenderness.

Dear doctors and nurses, the world was able to see all the good you did in a very testing situation. Even though exhausted, you continued to be engaged with professionalism and abnegation. How many doctors and paramedical staff, nurses, couldn’t go home and slept there, where they could, because there were no more beds in the hospital! And this gives birth to hope. You were pillars of the whole country. To you here present and to your colleagues of the whole of Italy, goes my esteem and sincere gratitude, and I’m sure I express unanimous sentiments.

At present, it’s the moment to draw teaching from all the positive energy that was invested. Don’t forget it! It’s a richness that certainly happened in part “with little or no hope of return,” in the tragedy of the crisis, but in good part, it can and must bear fruit for the present and future of Lombardy and Italian society. The pandemic marked deep down persons’ life and the history of communities, To honor the suffering of the sick and the numerous dead, especially elderly people, whose life experience must not be forgotten. It’s necessary to build tomorrow: that calls for engagement, strength, and dedication to all. It’s about sharing innumerable testimonies of generous and free love, which had left an indelible imprint on consciences and on society’s fabric, teaching us how much closeness, care, and sacrifice are necessary to nourish fraternity and civil coexistence. And, on looking at the future, there comes to mind the discourse of Fra Felice in the Lazaret, in Manzoni’s book [Les Fiances, chapter 36[“ with what realism he looks at tragedy, he looks at death, but he looks to the future and he advances.

Thus, we can come out of this crisis spiritually and morally stronger, and this depends on the conscience and responsibility of each one of us. Not alone but together and with God’s grace. As believers, it is for us to witness that God doesn’t abandon us, but that, in Christ, He gives meaning to this reality and to our limitations; that with His help, one can address the hardest trials. God has created us for communion, for fraternity and today, the pretention of centering everything on oneself, of making individualism the guiding principle of society, has revealed itself more than ever illusory — it’s illusory. However, let’s be attentive, once the crisis passes, it’s easy to slide, it’s easy to fall again into this illusion. It’s easy to forget quickly that we have need of others, of someone who takes care of us, who gives us courage, to forget that all of us need a Father that stretches out his hand to us. To pray to Him, to invoke Him isn’t an illusion; the illusion is to think that we can do without Him! Prayer is the soul of hope.

Over these months, people weren’t able to take part physically in liturgical celebrations, but they did not cease to feel themselves in community. They prayed individually or as a family, also through the means of social communications, united spiritually, and perceiving that the Lord’s embrace went beyond the limits of space. The pastoral zeal and creative solicitude of priests helped people to follow the path of faith and not to remain alone in the face of suffering and fear. The priestly creativity, which exceeded rare “adolescent” expressions against the Authority’s measures that has the obligation to protect the health of the people. The majority were obedient and creative. I admire the apostolic spirit of numerous priests, who went out with their telephones knocked on doors, rang a homes” “Do you need something?? Can I do your shopping . . .” – a thousand things — closeness, creativity, without embarrassment. These priests, who stayed at the side of their people in prevenient and daily sharing, were signs of God’s consoling presence; they were fathers, not adolescents. Sadly, a certain number of them died, as did doctors and paramedical staff. And among you also, there were certain priests who were sick and thank God are cured. Through you, I thank all the Italian clergy, who gave proof of courage and love to people.

Dear brothers and sisters, I renew to each one of you and to all those you represent, my earnest appreciation for what you did in this painful and complex situation. May the Virgin Mary, venerated in numerous shrines and churches of your lands, accompany and support you always with Her maternal protection. And don’t forget that by your work for all, medical and paramedical staff, volunteers, priests, religious, laymen, who did that, you began a miracle. Have faith and, as the tailor said, missing theologian: “I have never found that God began a miracle without finishing it well.” [Manzoni, Les Fiances, chapter 24]. May this miracle, which you began, finish well! From my side, I continue to pray for you and for your communities, and I give you, affectionately, a special Apostolic Blessing. And, please, don’t you forget to pray for me, I need it. Thank you.

[Blessing]

Now the liturgy of salvation, but we must be obedient to the dispositions: I won’t make you come here, it is I who will come in passing, greeting you politely, as mus be done, as the Authorities have told us to do. And so, we greet one another as brothers and we pray for one another. Before that, we’ll take the group photograph then I will come to greet you.

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