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Hope Amidst the Challenge of Coronavirus: A Reflection from the Rector of the Basilica

Dear Friend of Mary’s Shrine,

I think you will agree with me when I state, we have never lived in a time like this before. We have lived through wars and natural disasters, but never before, at least in the recollection of people into their ninetieth year, have we lived through the world basically being shut down.

In the nearly one hundred years since the Foundation Stone was placed, Mary’s Shrine has never closed her doors to the faithful except when a snow emergency required such drastic measures.

I have to tell you, that in the days since we had to suspend the public celebration of Mass and then when we closed our doors even to those who simply came to the Shrine to pray, it has been quite eerie here. Although the Shrine priests and some of our staff continue to be at the Shrine every day, as I walk around the Shrine with not a soul in sight, it seems as though we have reached “Armageddon,” the end of the world.

As I processed from the Upper Sacristy for our livestream Mass this past Sunday, walking down the steps and seeing every pew empty, I began to tear up. Never in my nearly twenty-five years at Mary’s Shrine have the pews been completely vacant. Even during snowstorms, some people always managed to get to Mass. But not now. It is all rather surreal.

An important truth the coronavirus pandemic has presented is the fact that no one is exempt from the possibility of infection. It does not matter what your ethnicity is, whether you are rich or poor, male or female, young or old, a world leader or day laborer – when it comes to COVID-19, we are all equal. If there is any good that has come to light these days, that is it. The understanding that we are all equal.

Another reality the pandemic has brought to the fore is how vital faith is to people’s lives, especially the Mass. Forced to not attend Mass because of government restrictions to stem the spread of the virus, people are now starving to be fed with the Word of God and the Body of Christ. While participating in Mass via the internet or some other form of social media is spiritually supportive in these days filled with anxiety, nothing can replace the healing balm of the Eucharist and the Sacraments.

Watching the news during these days of the coronavirus pandemic, I am also encouraged to see that, while claiming the lives of thousands worldwide and with tens of thousands in quarantine, the nearly 8 billion people who populate the world have become more humane, more concerned about their neighbor, more willing to lend a helping hand. And that is a good thing.

Monsignor Rossi praying in the St. Catherine of Alexandria Chapel
Monsignor Rossi praying in the St. Catherine of Alexandria Chapel

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has encouraged us to seek the intercession of Our Lady under her title, Health of the Sick. During “this moment of trial,” let us, on behalf of all those affected by the coronavirus and all those who tend to the sick, especially those in the medical profession, invoke her intercession daily.

During the “Black Plague” of the 14th century which devastated Europe, a group of saints venerated under the name of the Fourteen Holy Helpers were invoked because they were known to be helpful in overcoming trials and sufferings. The Holy Helpers are Saint George, Saint Blaise, Saint Giles, Saint Denis, Saint Eustace, Saint Erasmus, Saint Cyriacus, Saint Christopher, Saint Vitus, Saint Pantaleon, Saint Acatius, Saint Barbara, Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Margaret.

Both Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine are honored with altars in the Shrine Crypt Church and in recent days I have paid them a visit and before their mosaic image, asked them to join forces with Our Lady to bring an end to the spread of the coronavirus, bring health to those infected, comfort to all those who suffer, and eternal rest to those who have died.

Please join me in seeking the intercession of the Fourteen Holy Helpers and that of Our Lady, Health of the Sick, as together, as one family of faith and one human family, we journey through this moment of great trial and suffering.

Asking God to preserve us and Mary Immaculate, Health of the Sick, to protect us, may I remain,

Reverend Monsignor Walter R. Rossi


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