Vatican News

Pope announces extraordinary 'urbi et orbi' blessing March 27

By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

CNS photo/Vatican Media

Pope Francis delivers the Angelus livestreamed from the library of the Apostolic Palace March 22, 2020. The pope announced he will give an extraordinary blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world) at 6 p.m. Rome time March 27 in an "empty" St. Peter's Square because all of Italy is on lockdown to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. (CNS photo/Vatican Media) See POPE-EXTRAORDINARY-BLESSING March 22, 2020.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis said he will give an extraordinary blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world) at 6 p.m. Rome time March 27.

The formal blessing -- usually given only immediately after a new pope's election and on Christmas and Easter -- carries with it a plenary indulgence for all who follow by television, internet or radio, are sorry for their sins, recite a few prescribed prayers and promise to go to confession and to receive the Eucharist as soon as possible.

After reciting the Angelus prayer March 22 from the library of the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis announced his plans for the special blessing, which, he said, would be given in an "empty" St. Peter's Square because all of Italy is on lockdown to prevent further spread of the virus.

With the public joining him only by television, internet or radio, "we will listen to the word of God, raise our prayer (and) adore the Blessed Sacrament," he said. "At the end, I will give the benediction 'urbi et orbi,' to which will be connected the possibility of receiving a plenary indulgence."

An indulgence is an ancient practice of prayer and penance for the remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven. In Catholic teaching, a person can draw on the merits of Jesus and the saints to claim the indulgence for themselves or offer it on behalf of someone who has died.

In addition to announcing the special blessing, Pope Francis said that at a time "when humanity trembles" because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he was asking Christians of every denomination to join together at noon March 25 to recite the Lord's Prayer. The Catholic Church and many others mark March 25 as the feast of the Annunciation.

"To the pandemic of the virus we want to respond with the universality of prayer, compassion and tenderness," he said. "Let's stay united. Let us make those who are alone and tested feel our closeness," as well as doctors, nurses, other healthcare workers and volunteers.

Pope Francis also expressed concern for "authorities who have to take strong measures for our good" and the police and soldiers maintaining public order and enforcing the lockdown.

Iranian cleric pleads with pope to help end U.S. sanctions

By Carol Glatz Catholic News Service

Paul Haring

Ayatollah Seyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad Ahmadabadi, an Islamic scholar, answers reporters' questions in Rome Oct. 14, 2010, before giving a presentation at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See IRAN-POPE-SANCTIONS March 23, 2020.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Citing the increasing loss of lives to COVID-19 and a lack of medical resources, an Iranian cleric has urged Pope Francis to do what he can to help get U.S. sanctions against Iran lifted.

"Without judging the root causes of these inhuman sanctions imposed by the United States, as an Iranian Islamic scholar, I humbly ask you, as a beloved world leader of Catholics, to intervene so that those sanctions are eliminated," wrote Ayatollah Seyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad Ahmadabadi.

Promoting the end to the sanctions is a humanitarian act befitting those who believe in Jesus, who "for the whole world is a universal symbol of peace and love," he said in a letter addressed to Pope Francis. The text of the letter was also sent to Fides, the Vatican's missionary news agency, and was published on their website March 20.

Ayatollah Mohaghegh Damad is a scholar and dean of the department of Islamic Studies at the Academy of Sciences of Iran and a professor of law and Islamic philosophy at Tehran University. Pope Benedict XVI invited him to attend and address the 2010 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East at the Vatican.

In his letter to Pope Francis, the ayatollah said Iran has seen a rapid spread of the coronavirus, with many people "struggling painfully against the loss of loved ones caused very often by the serious lack of medical resources due to the consequences of sanctions imposed by the United States."

The sanctions "have greatly multiplied the sufferings and afflictions of the oppressed Iranian Muslim people and have forced them to face countless problems that have had a profound and negative impact on their life, on their peace and spiritual tranquility and moreover, have deprived them of the most basic and inalienable human rights," the letter said.

"In these days in which men all over the world are seriously threatened by the appalling spread of COVID-19, I am deeply convinced that the Holy Father, with sincere love and compassion, continues to pray that this international tragedy may cease and human suffering finds relief."

Iran has reported at least 23,000 known cases of coronavirus and nearly 2,000 deaths. It is one of the hardest-hit nations after China, Italy and Spain. Even though the government has closed schools and key pilgrimage sites, canceled Friday public prayers and requested people avoid all travel, millions of people have ignored restrictions because of the Persian New Year holidays, according to the Iranian Red Crescent.

China, Japan, Russia and a number of European and Middle Eastern countries have helped Iran with supplies; however, its economy has been crippled by the sanctions. It's not allowed to tap into international markets for selling its oil or for purchasing needed equipment, including medical supplies.

The United States said recently it was ready to assist Iran, but its supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said such aid should be refused. On March 22 he said the U.S. should not be trusted to send Iran medicines that were safe.   The United States has had an embargo on trade with Iran since 1995. Sanctions were lifted in 2016 after Iran complied with a negotiated deal to dismantle its nuclear weapons capabilities, but the U.S. government withdrew from the deal and imposed old and new sanctions in 2018. The European Union, the United Nations' International Court of Justice and other international bodies have been critical of the sanctions for their effects on the safety and welfare of civilians.


Pope prays for people in financial difficulty because of pandemic

By Carol Glatz Catholic News Service

CNS photo/Vatican Media

Pope Francis prays during his morning Mass March 23, 2020, in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Vatican Media) See POPE-MASS-PRAYING March 23, 2020.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis offered prayers for everyone, particularly families, facing financial difficulties because of the pandemic.

"Let us pray today for people who are beginning to experience economic problems because they cannot work due to the pandemic, and all of this falls on the family," he said at the start of Mass March 23.

Nearly 25 million jobs may be lost worldwide due to COVID-19, the International Labor Organization estimated in a preliminary assessment report released March 18.   However, the impact on employment could be lower if there is an internationally coordinated policy response, similar to what happened during the global financial crisis of 2008, it said.

During his livestreamed morning Mass, the pope reflected on what true prayer requires.

Many times prayer can just be a mere habit of reciting a series of words, he said in his homily.

But authentic prayer comes from a heart filled with faith, he said.

"Let us be careful during prayer to not fall into a habit without an awareness that the Lord is there, that I am speaking with the Lord and that he is able to solve the problem," the pope said.

The second thing needed is perseverance, he said.

Some people may pray, but the graces are not received because "they don't have this perseverance, because deep down they are not in need or they don't have faith."

"If you have faith, you are sure that the Lord will give what you ask. And if the Lord makes you wait, you knock and knock and knock until he grants that grace."

If God is not answering one's prayers, there is a reason, the pope said. "He is doing it for our own good so that we take it seriously, take prayer seriously" and be more firmly rooted in faith, not just in parroting words.

"The third thing God wants in prayer is courage," he said, the courage to keep praying and sometimes arguing with God, like Moses, who stood up for his people against God's desire to strike them down for their sins.

"These days, it is necessary to pray, to pray more" and to pray with perseverance, courage and the faith that the Lord can intervene, he said.

"The Lord does not disappoint," Pope Francis said. "He makes us wait, he takes his time, but he does not disappoint."

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