The spread of Covid-19 is a human catastrophe. But in a paradoxical way, it may be a time of grace for the Church as well as a time of tribulation
The Bishop of Rome, accompanied only by his security personnel, walked along a deserted Via del Corso, the main shopping district of the Eternal City. On a normal Sunday, the street is a bustling thoroughfare full of tourists. I have battled my way through it many times, and normally try to avoid it on a weekend due to the congestion.
The coronavirus pandemic has utterly changed that. As Pope Francis processed past the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, home to Rome’s largest private art collection, a lone cyclist passed by. My bank is on the Via del Corso. On the day the Pope walked past it, I had an email from them telling me it was temporarily closing. The Eternal City has been emptied by the quarantine imposed to stop the spread of Covid-19. Italians have all been told to stay at home, to stop socialising and to only venture out to visit pharmacies or food stores.
The Pope left the Vatican to make a one-man pilgrimage to the church of St Marcello, where he prayed in front of a crucifix believed to have brought an end to the plague of 1522. On the way, he visited the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, where he offered prayers for an end to the pandemic in front of the ancient icon of the Virgin Mary, Salus Populi Romani (“Protectress of the Roman People”). It was a very personal sign of solidarity with his neighbours.