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Francis on Friday delivered an iconic image that stirred a country’s soul

ROME – Twenty years from now, if you were to ask Italians to think back about what images stuck in their minds from the coronavirus, it’s a good bet that after Friday night, many would give the same answer.

“Papa Francesco standing alone in St. Peter’s Square, under the rain, praying for it to end,” they’d likely say.

In one fell swoop Friday night, Francis not only delivered what seems destined to become the most iconic image of the pandemic, he effectively shut down what had been a mounting undercurrent of criticism about the supposed “invisibility” and “silence” of the Church.

The pontiff prayed before images of Maria, Salus Populis Romani, and the crucifix from the Roman church of San Marcello, both credited with protecting the city in times of plague. He also offered an Urbi et Orbi blessing, traditionally delivered only after a papal election and on Christmas and Easter, accompanied by a plenary indulgence.

“From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the world, may the blessing of God, like a consoling embrace, descend upon you,” the pope said.

Aldo, Grasso, Italy’s best-known historian and critic of television, described the moment this way in a piece for Corriere della Sera, Italy’s newspaper of record.

“One day we’ll remember these sad times we’re living with many other images: the daily count of the dead, the lines at the hospitals, the frantic challenge to an invisible enemy,” he wrote. “But the prayer for the end of the pandemic, the solemn Urbi et Orbi blessing, the solitude of the pope, will end up as one of those decisive moments in which television captures our history, our anguish, in real time.”

“The wind that blew the pages of the Gospels during the funeral of John Paul II, or the helicopter ride of Pope Benedict when he resigned, both moved us, but they’re nothing in comparison to the shock of seeing the empty square surrounded by the colonnade of Bernini,” Grasso said.

The imagery was undeniably arresting.

Read more at Crux

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