Humanity could be struck by “an even worse virus” after the coronavirus crisis, that of “selfish indifference”, Pope Francis said as he celebrated Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday.

Preaching at Santo Spirito in Sassia, Rome’s official Divine Mercy church, April 19, the pope said that we risk forgetting the poor as we eagerly await the end of the pandemic.

He said: “Now, while we are looking forward to a slow and arduous recovery from the pandemic, there is a danger that we will forget those who are left behind. The risk is that we may then be struck by an even worse virus, that of selfish indifference. A virus spread by the thought that life is better if it is better for me, and that everything will be fine if it is fine for me.”

“It begins there and ends up selecting one person over another, discarding the poor, and sacrificing those left behind on the altar of progress.”

He continued: “The present pandemic, however, reminds us that there are no differences or borders between those who suffer. We are all frail, all equal, all precious. May we be profoundly shaken by what is happening all around us: the time has come to eliminate inequalities, to heal the injustice that is undermining the health of the entire human family!”

The Mass at Santo Spirito in Sassia, a short walk from St. Peter’s Basilica, marked the 20th liturgical anniversary of St. Faustina Kowalska’s canonization and the official institution of the feast of Divine Mercy Sunday by St. John Paul II. St. Faustina, a Polish nun who died in 1938, aged 33, had a series of visions which inspired the Divine Mercy devotion.

Speaking before rows of nearly empty pews due to the pandemic, the pope recalled that St. Faustina wrote in her diary in 1937 that “In a soul that is suffering we should see Jesus on the cross, not a parasite and a burden... [Lord] you give us the chance to practice deeds of mercy, and we practice making judgments.”

He said: “To everyone: let us not think only of our interests, our vested interests. Let us welcome this time of trial as an opportunity to prepare for our collective future. Because without an all-embracing vision, there will be no future for anyone.”

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, and Msgr. Józef Bart, rector of Santo Spirito in Sassia, concelebrated the Mass, which was broadcast on television and via livestream.

During the Prayer of the Faithful, those present prayed for healthcare workers looking after coronavirus patients, priests offering the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and volunteers helping those suffering from the economic fallout from the pandemic.

In his homily, the pope said that God does not want us to see him as “a taskmaster with whom we have to settle accounts, but as our Father who always raises us up”.

“In life we go forward tentatively, uncertainly,” he said, “like a toddler who takes a few steps and falls; a few steps more and falls again, yet each time his father puts him back on his feet. The hand that always puts us back on our feet is mercy: God knows that without mercy we will remain on the ground, that in order to keep walking, we need to be put back on our feet.”

To those frustrated by falling time and again, the pope said: “The Lord knows this and he is always ready to raise you up. He does not want us to keep thinking about our failings; rather, he wants us to look to him. For when we fall, he sees children needing to be put back on their feet; in our failings he sees children in need of his merciful love.”

“Today, in this church that has become a shrine of mercy in Rome, and on this Sunday that St. John Paul II dedicated to Divine Mercy 20 years ago, we confidently welcome this message. Jesus said to St. Faustina: ‘I am love and mercy itself; there is no human misery that could measure up to my mercy’.”

The pope recalled that St. Faustina had told Jesus that she had given him everything. But in reply Christ said to her: “You have not offered me the thing is truly yours.”

“What had that holy nun kept for herself?” he asked. “Jesus said to her with kindness: ‘My daughter, give me your failings.’ We too can ask ourselves: ‘Have I given my failings to the Lord? Have I let him see me fall so that he can raise me up?’"

"Or is there something I still keep inside me? A sin, a regret from the past, a wound that I have inside, a grudge against someone, an idea about a particular person... The Lord waits for us to offer him our failings so that he can help us experience his mercy.”

Following Mass, Pope Francis recited the Regina Coeli prayer inside the church.

Speaking shortly before the prayer, he said: “The response of Christians in the storms of life and history can only be mercy: compassionate love among ourselves and towards everyone, especially those who suffer, those who struggle most, those who are abandoned...”

"Not pietism, not assistance, but compassion, which comes from the heart. And divine mercy comes from the Heart of the Risen Christ.”

"It springs from the always open wound of his side, open for us, who always need forgiveness and comfort. Christian mercy also inspires just sharing among nations and their institutions, in order to face the present crisis in solidarity."

He then greeted Eastern Christians celebrating Easter this Sunday.

“In particular, I rejoice with the Eastern Catholic communities which, for ecumenical reasons, celebrate Easter together with the Orthodox ones,” he said. “May this fraternity be a comfort where Christians are a small minority.”

Santo Spirito in Sassia, a 16th-century church originally built as a hospital, contains relics of both St. Faustina Kowalska and St. John Paul II.

Between 1934 and her death, St. Faustina recorded her conversations with Jesus in a diary that was later published in dozens of languages. With her confessor Fr. Michał Sopoćko, she asked an artist to paint an image of Jesus with his left hand pointing to his heart, which emits two rays, one red and one white. It became known as the Divine Mercy image or the Image of Merciful Jesus.

St. Faustina became the first saint of the new millennium when she was canonized April 30, 2000 by Pope John Paul II.

John Paul II died April 2, 2005, the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday. He was beatified on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2011 and canonized on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2014.