Pope Francis prayed that Christians would respond to the lifting of lockdown restrictions with “prudence and obedience” as he celebrated Mass Tuesday.
Speaking from the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta, his Vatican residence, April 28, he said: “At this time, when indications have been given to exit out of quarantine, we pray the Lord will grant to His people, all of us, the grace of prudence and obedience to these indications so that the pandemic does not return.”
The pope was speaking two days after Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte unveiled plans for a gradual easing of lockdown measures. The Italian bishops strongly criticised Conte for not setting a date for the resumption of public Masses.
In his homily, Pope Francis reflected on the martyrdom of St. Stephen, described in the Acts of the Apostles (Act 7:51-8:1). He noted that, like Jesus, Stephen was falsely accused of blasphemy as a pretext for his execution.
There is a pattern, he said, seen in the Bible and down to our present age, which begins with false testimony in order to arrive at “doing justice.”
He recalled the case of Asia Bibi, a Catholic mother of five who was sentenced to death for blasphemy before the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted her in 2018.
“Let’s think of Asia Bibi, for example, that we have seen: 10 years in prison because she was judged by slander and a people who want her death,” the pope said. “Faced with this avalanche of false news that creates opinion, many times nothing can be done: nothing can be done.”
He offered the Shoah, the Hebrew term for the Holocaust, as another instance of the same pattern.
“Opinion was created against a people and then it was normal: ‘Yes, yes: they must be killed, they must be killed’,” he said.
It is easy to recognize that this is wrong, the pope observed. But we overlook the “small daily lynchings” that take place when we gossip about others.
“Let’s think about our tongues: many times with our comments we start such lynching. Even in our Christian institutions, we have seen so many daily lynchings born out of gossip,” he said.
“May the Lord help us to be righteous in our judgments, not to begin to follow this mass condemnation that provokes gossip.”
After Mass, the pope presided at adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, before leading those watching via livestream in an act of spiritual communion.
Reciting the words of Spanish Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val (1865-1930), he said: “At Thy feet, O my Jesus, I prostrate myself and I offer Thee repentance of my contrite heart, which is humbled in its nothingness and in Thy holy presence. I adore Thee in the Sacrament of Thy love, the ineffable Eucharist. I desire to receive Thee into the poor dwelling that my heart offers Thee.”
“While waiting for the happiness of sacramental communion, I wish to possess Thee in spirit. Come to me, O my Jesus, since I, for my part, am coming to Thee! May Thy love embrace my whole being in life and in death. I believe in Thee, I hope in Thee, I love Thee.”
Finally, the congregation sang the Easter Marian antiphon “Regina caeli”.