Pope Francis cited priests who have been working in the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic, especially those who offered their lives with health workers, as “saints next door” during the Holy Thursday celebration in the Vatican.
In his homily during Mass commemorating the Last Supper of Jesus before his passion and crucifixion, the pope recalled the priests “who have given their lives to Christ” and “the priests who are servants.”
He remembered especially the “more than 60 priests in Italy” who “have given their lives” while “serving the sick in hospital, together with the doctors and nurses” in the midst of the new coronavirus pandemic.
Pope Francis called them “the saints next door.”
The pope also mentioned priests who are living “in far distant places … who proclaim the Gospel in faraway places and die doing so.”
He said many priests also devote their lives to preaching the Gospel in the rural and isolated places.
“Today, I bring all of these in my heart to the altar,” said the pontiff.
He also remembered priests who have been subject to calumny and insult and “cannot go out in the streets because people say bad things to them.”
“Today you are all with me at the altar,” he said.
He called on the more than 400,000 Catholic priests around the world “to ask for forgiveness and to learn to forgive.”
“Don’t be hard-headed like Peter: allow the Lord to wash your feet, learn to forgive the other. Just as you have forgiven, you will be forgiven. Never be afraid to forgive,” said Pope Francis.
“I thank God for you, priests. Jesus loves you. I ask only that you allow your feet to be washed,” he ended his homily.
Holy Thursday is usually the day priests renew their priestly vows during the Chrism Mass in the morning.
Pope Francis said he hoped it could be celebrated before Pentecost.
The Holy Thursday Mass is usually celebrated outside in the Vatican. This year’s ceremony took place at the Altar of the Chair in an almost empty St. Peter’s Basilica.
The liturgy did not include the washing of the feet following directives intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease.
This year’s observance of the Holy Week by Christians around the world has been affected by the lockdown in many countries due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Churches have been closed and rites and rituals are suspended if not aired on television or streamed online.