Pope Francis prays that people will act prudently and obey government regulations as lockdowns to prevent the spread of the coronavirus are eased. The pope made the prayer at the beginning of Mass April 28, 2020, in the chapel of his Vatican residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

COVID-19: A pastor’s perspective: Spreading the Message of Prudence and Obedience

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Father David BonnarNearly one year ago, I made plans to be in Rome this week. The pilgrimage was yet another attempt to build a bridge between the two parishes in which I serve that will merge into one new parish in July 2020. There were people from both parishes, along with some staff, that signed up for this trip to the eternal city of Rome, which also included visits to Assisi, Florence and Venice.

This would mark the third time that I would sponsor a trip to Italy in my almost 32 years of being a priest. It is always revivifying to return to this sacred place where I studied theology. I also find it invigorating to be able to see this ancient city through the eyes of tourists. I guess you could say, as ancient as the city is, it never gets old for me. Unfortunately, the pandemic, which swept across Italy like a tsunami, precluded this trip from happening.

St. Augustine is believed to have coined the expression, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Well, the Romans speak Italian. I learned this firsthand as all of my classes at the Pontifical Gregorian University were in Italian. By no means am I a linguist, but I can get by, as they say.

Learning a second language can be painstakingly humbling. And yet, as one learns the language, it can present a whole new milieu. As a young seminarian, I remember visiting St. Peter’s Square on Christmas and Easter to see Pope John Paul II deliver the urbi et orbi, known in English as the “blessing to the city (Rome) and the world.” I marveled at how the pope gave greetings in multiple languages. What a gift to the Church when the pontiff or anyone else can speak the vernacular of the people.

Of course, not every person is able to speak multiple languages. When this is not possible, there is a great dependency on translators to deliver the message from one language to another.

Every day, Pope Francis prays for and speaks to the people of the world. This morning in his chapel the pope prayed these words: “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.”

As people who are revving up to re-enter life and resume our routines, it is imperative that we embrace prudence. I once heard prudence defined as the act of looking backward and forward at the same time. While we are all eager to leave our homes and dive back into life, we cannot lose sight of what is behind us and in front of us. The contagion remains and continues to wreak havoc and cause death.

It is equally important that we practice obedience. Obedience is an attentive and respectful listening. As frustrated and weary as we all might be, I firmly believe we must continue listening to the medical professionals, civil authorities and bishops, all of whom want us to be safe. Remember, this is only temporary.

There is also the need for translators of the message to be prudent and obedient. The moral of this story is one need not know another language to be a translator. Go forth and spread the message of prudence and obedience as we all try to stop the spread of the virus.

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 15 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.

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