A Call for Hope: 20,000 faithful share phone conversation with Archbishop Aquila

Aaron Lambert

Social distancing provides a great opportunity to do something many of us likely don’t do much of anymore: speak on the phone.

And on Sunday, March 22, that’s exactly what 20,000 people of the Archdiocese of Denver did with Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and former CDC virologist Deacon Rob Lanciotti. The call was hosted to answer the faithful’s questions about the coronavirus outbreak and how the archdiocese is responding.

A multitude of topics were touched upon, including a spiritual reflection from Archbishop Aquila on how we as Christians are to respond in this pandemic, what Easter Masses are going to look like, what it means to “flatten the curve,” and much more.

We’ve assembled some quotes and highlights from the call for you below. You can also listen to the full call here.

Archbishop’s comments

On whether God created coronavirus

“…We need to understand that it is not God who creates the plague or the virus. This is something of nature. It happens. And and with that, the Lord certainly permits it. And it is to him that we truly need to turn during this time and and certainly seek his wisdom in all that we do and in the decisions that are made certainly in our own time.”

On what the Lord is teaching through this

“…As we reflect on it from a spiritual point of view, we can see that the Lord perhaps is desiring to bring good out of this, and that is to wake us up to the truth that we are not God, that we are creatures, that we have been created by God and for God, and that it really calls us out of indifference. It calls us out of seeking our own preferences. And it truly is a wakeup call.”

On how the Easter Triduum will be celebrated

“…All of the parishes, through a decree that came from the Holy See within the last few days, gave to all parish priests permission to celebrate in their parishes Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday without a congregation. And so the parishes that are able to livestream that will be livestreaming it. And we’ve encouraged them to do that.\And I, too, will be celebrating the Triduum liturgies at the cathedral without a congregation present. And these liturgies will all be livestreamed for the faithful to participate.”

On what to pray for

“I want to give you encouragement, continue to pray, continue to open your heart to the Lord and really put your trust in him, and especially to exercise the virtue of charity and especially for caring for the elderly. It is the people who are 60 or older who are most impacted by this virus. And so it will be important in the weeks and even months ahead to be cautious and to follow all of the directives of health care providers and and so that they do not get sick. And it’s important to stay in touch with our elderly and to give them encouragement during this time, because it’s difficult for them as they’re confined to their homes or confined to their rooms if they’re in nursing homes or in assisted living places, most of them are confined. And so keeping them in prayer and holding them up to the Lord and also really praying for health care officials and and praying especially for scientists.”

Deacon Lanciotti’s comments

On how we can overcome the virus

“The challenge is we’re facing a highly transmissible respiratory virus that’s been introduced into a population that has essentially no immunity at all. That’s what is the foundation of a pandemic. And so it’s I think it’s important to understand that what will ultimately end this pandemic is immunity in the population – people developing antibodies and other activations in their immune system to combat this virus. Now, immunity is only achieved two ways. One is by getting infected naturally. And the other is by vaccination. And so that’s really the goal, is for the population to develop immunity to this virus. I know there’s a vaccine that’s already in people in trials in Seattle, but that’s what we need. We need immunity. What these measures are designed to do is slow down the number of infections so that everybody can be adequately treated in a hospital.”

On social distancing and flattening the curve

“One analogy to think of is if you took all of the crime that occurs in Denver in a year’s period and condensed it into one night, what would happen? It would be a disaster, because a lot of people that would normally be treated and and taken to a hospital and cared for, a lot of those people would needlessly die because there just aren’t enough personnel, ambulances, so forth and so on. And that’s essentially what these measures are designed to do. We want to slow down this epidemic such that everybody who is infected, it can occur over a longer period of time so that everyone can be treated comprehensively. That’s what we mean by flattening the curve. In a typical epidemic where you do nothing, you get an incredibly logarithmic or rapid rise in cases. And it all happens fairly quickly in a matter of weeks or maybe a month.\These measures are designed to slow things down so everyone can be treated.”

On how we should respond

“I would just remind everyone this is the time to take precautions to do the right thing, but not to panic. At the end of the day, we’re talking about a virus that in the majority of cases will not cause severe outcomes. There are many people that are suffering from this, but it is a virus that is is going to have a minimal effect on the majority of the people. And so we have to be safe and we have to show love and charity to those around us by not transmitting it. There really is no cause for fear. We just have to wait this out, follow what we’ve been told and pray that in addition to all that we can do to slow this down, that God will intervene as well and help us.”

Call-in comments

Gratitude for Archbishop Aquila’s leadership

“Your Excellency, I’m just calling to thank you so much for your care and prayers for us and for your words of encouragement that is helping us to get through this difficult time. Thank you especially for caring and for protecting our priests. Know that there are many, many of us that are praying for you daily, for the most powerful intercession of Mary and St. Joseph, for your protection, strength and peace, and good health. Thank you, your excellency.”

Featured Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic

COMING UP: Full transcript of Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi blessing amid coronavirus pandemic

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

Below is the full text of Pope Francis’ Urbi et Ordi blessing delivered on March 27, during which he prayed for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.

“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.

It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).

Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7).

Featured image: Vatican Media