Need of the Hour: Faith, Hope and Charity | Sunday Observer

Need of the Hour: Faith, Hope and Charity

5 April, 2020

At a time when perhaps the whole world is pondering on ways and means to curtail the spreading of the deadly coronavirus, the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”seems to be challenging all human beings on earth. The political leaders have been compelled to research ways and means to grapple with the real-world problem of the coronavirus which has engulfed the whole world.

The Vicar of the Christ, His Holiness Pope Francis conducted a special ‘to the city and the world’ commonly identified as an Urbi et Orbion March 27, 2020 standing in a deserted St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican with a heavy heart, despite steady rain to impart his Apostolic Blessing that included a special plenary indulgence to the world. Usually, it is a blessing reserved for the Holy Father to impart on Christmas Day, Easter Sunday and on  his election as a Pope.

The President of Sri Lanka, Gotabaya Ralapaksa addressing the nation on March 17, 2020, explained the steps taken by the Government to eradicate the menace the coronavirus from the island. It was his third address to the nation following his election as the Executive President of the country and explicitly outlined the enormous steps taken by the Government to uplift the living standards of all Sri Lankans within a short span of just four months. He elaborated on the vital importance of curbing the spread of the coronavirus and explained the steps taken to ensure all important aspects of community life. He urged all Sri Lankans to act with responsibility and assured the upholding of all pledges given by him and pledged to keep the country secure.

Sri Lanka was one of the first countries to take proactive steps against the coronavirus, well before it was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Sri Lanka used its powerful quarantine laws and the well-established free healthcare system to take all measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic. WHO Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has commended the President for mobilizing the entire government and its apparatus in the fight against COVID-19 during a telephone conversation and a subsequent Twitter post.

Meanwhile, the Cardinal Archbishop of Colombo, His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith repeatedly requested Sri Lankans of all faiths to understand the gravity of the situation that has encompassed the whole world and requested them to respect and adhere to the untiring efforts of the Government. During a televised Sunday Holy Mass on March 29, 2020, he urged the faithful to journey towards reaching the fullness of life through obedience to the Lord explaining that human manipulations to the extent of dreaming a world without a God and crimes committed involving humanity, challenging the sacredness of marriage, family life, murder of infants by legalising abortion and extensive damage to nature have led us towards the present disastrous situation.

Vow to Our Lady of Lanka

The Cardinal Archbishop of Colombo, His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith pledged an extraordinary vow to Our Lady of Lanka urging to protect humanity from the deadly coronavirus with profound faith and hope at the National Basilica in Tewatte, Ragama at 11 a. m. on April 3, 2020 at a solemn ceremony telecast to the nation. The reading chosen for the occasion was the first miracle attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John (John 2:1–11) of the transformation of water into wine at the Wedding at Cana. In the Gospel account, Jesus, his mother and his disciples are invited to a wedding and when the wine runs out, Jesus delivers a sign of his glory by turning water into wine. The prayerful encounter included a brief meditation in which His Eminence highlighted the Blessed Virgin Mary’s words, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:3-5) at Cana reminding  us that she continues to intercede on behalf of humanity. His Eminence as the principal celebrant continued proceedings with a silent prayer, writing and offering of the vow, reciting of the consecratory prayer and blessing of the statue of Our Lady of Lanka. The ceremony ended with the imparting of a solemn blessing by His Eminence on all people in Sri Lanka and the world.

In the history of Sri Lanka, the Catholic Episcopal has sought special divine protection at difficult times. In 1942, the then Archbishop of Colombo, His Grace Jean Marie Masson knelt at the grotto of Our Lady in the precinct of the Tewatte Basilica and beseeched Mother Mary to intercede on behalf of Sri Lanka and protect the country from the , peril and destruction of World War II. When the island had been saved, the then Archbishop of Colombo, His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Cooray vowed to build a basilica and today the magnificent National Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka at Tewatte stands as a living monument of the fulfillment of the vow in 1974.

Icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Pope Francis on March 27, 2020 used the ancient icon of Mary SalusPopuli Romani in the Basilica of St. Mary Major which has accompanied the people of Rome for centuries to pray for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic. The image is believed to have arrived from Crete in the year 590 AD during the Pontificate of Pope Gregory the Great. The image is of the so-called ‘Luke Images’ believed to have been painted from real life by St. Luke himself.  According to the legend: After the Crucifixion, when Our Lady moved to the home of John the Apostle, she took with her a few personal belongings – among which was a table built by the Redeemer in the workshop of St. Joseph. When St. Luke painted the portrait of the Mother of God, it was the top of this table that was used and while applying his brush and paints St. Luke listened carefully as the Mother of Jesus spoke of the life of her son, facts which the Evangelist later recorded in his Gospel.

The image has been venerated by several Popes – Pope Gregory I in 593 had the icon carried throughout Rome during Easter and prayed for an end to a plague at that time; Pope Pius V in 1571 to pray for victory at the Battle of Lepanto; Pope Gregory XVI in 1837 to pray for the end of the cholera epidemic; Pope Pius XII ordered the icon to be carried through Rome to celebrate the first Marian year; Pope John Paul II highlighted its iconography during the Jubilee Year of 2000.

An act of chivalry

On the first day after his election, March 14, 2013, Pope Francis did something remarkable and unprecedented. At about 8 a. m., he slipped out of the Vatican in a single unmarked car with a driver, rode across Rome to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the largest and most beautiful basilica in the world dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. He strode the length of the basilica and placed a bouquet of flowers beneath the ancient icon of Mother Mary. It was seen as an act of chivalry and love. It was the act of a son towards his mother. Pope Francis undertook the task of restoring and conserving the image, and officiated at a Pontifical Mass in her honour on January 28, 2018 on the anniversary of the icon’s transference  to its new permanent shrine. Theancient icon of Mary SalusPopuli Romani in the Basilica of St. Mary Major is indeed the single most important image of Mary that the Roman Catholic Church possesses.

Miraculous Sacred Cross

The first of the many stories of miracles attributed to the Miraculous Sacred Cross by the Romans dates back to 1519 when the crucifix hung in the nearby church of the Oratorio del SantissimoCrocifisso caught fire on the night between 22 and 23 Mayand was completely destroyed. At dawn people rushed to the church – the scene was one of great desolation but the crucifix remained intact above the altar, lit by oil lamps. Another miraculous episode dates back the terrible plague of 1552during which the city of Rome was so severely struck that it was feared that the city would simply cease to exist. At that crucial juncture, the Miraculous Crucifix was taken from the church of San Marcello to St. Peter’s in a penitential procession and Rome was saved. Since 1650, the Miraculous Ccrucifix is carried to St. Peter’s, on the Holy Years. During the Lent of the Great Jubilee in 2000, the crucifix was put on exposition on the Altar of the Confession in St. Peter’s. It was in front of this image that St. John Paul II celebrated the ‘Day of Forgiveness’.

Pope’s UrbietOrbi

The Holy Fatherstarted his historical extraordinary blessing UrbietOrbiwith a meditation on the crisis facing the world, reflecting on a passage from the Gospel of Mark (4:35-41).“For weeks now it has been evening,” said the Pope. “Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice it in people’s gestures, their glances give them away.”In this situation, he said, we feel afraid and lost, like the disciples whose boat was in danger of sinking while Jesus sleptin  the stern.

All in the same boat

The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us that we are all in the same boat, said Pope Francis, and so we call out to Jesus. The disciples asked Him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?”The Pope said these words would have shaken Jesus, “because He, more than anyone, cares about us.”The storm, said the Pope, exposes “our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules” and lays bare “all those attempts to anesthetize ourselves”.What is revealed, he said, is “our belonging as brothers and sisters”, our common humanity.

Have you no faith?

Pope Francis then picked up the thread of Jesus’s question: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”He said we have all gone ahead “at breakneck speed”, ignoring the wars, injustice, cries of the poor and our ailing planet. “We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick.”In our stormy sea, we now cry out: “Wake up, Lord!”

A time of choosing

Really, said Pope Francis, it is Jesus calling out to us to be converted, calling us to faith.“You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing,” he said.Now, is not the time of God’s judgment, but of our own: “a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not.”The Pope said we can draw lessons from the many people who – even though fearful –  responded by giving their lives, including medical personnel, supermarket clerks, cleaners, priests, police officers, and volunteers. This, he said, “is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial.”

Solidarity and hope

Pope Francis said faith begins “when we realise we are in need of salvation” and are not self-sufficient.If we turn to Jesus and hand Him our fears, said the Pope, He will conquer them.“Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.”God asks us now, in the midst of the tempest, “to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering.”

Embracing the Lord

Jesus’s cross, said Pope Francis, is the anchor that has saved us, the rudder that has redeemed us, and our hope, because “by His cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from His redeeming love.”“In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things,” he said, “let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: He is risen and is living by our side.”So, we embrace His cross in the hardships of the present time, and make room in our hearts “for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring.”“Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.”( this comes as fragmented so the line but it is a direct quote- please check)

‘Do not be afraid’

The Holy Father concluded, “Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, May God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: ‘Do not be afraid’ (Mathew 28:5). And we, together with Peter, ‘cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us’ (cf. 1Peter 5:7).”

( The writer served the Sri Lanka Navy 1979 through 2014 and Civil Defence Force 2015 through 2018;recipient of National and Presidential Awards for Sports and Academic pursuits; his byline appears in national and international publications regularly; a humanist enthralled in serving the War Heroes of Sri Lanka)