As more countries continue to lockdown and isolate to stem the spread of the coronavirus, "we can only get out of this situation together as a whole humanity," Pope Francis said.
In an interview published in the Italian newspaper La Stampa March 20, the pope said that although Christians must live this moment in history with "penance, compassion and hope," both believers and nonbelievers "are all in the same boat" and must confront the challenge together.
"What helps us is synergy, mutual collaboration, the sense of responsibility and the spirit of sacrifice that is generated in many places," he said. "We do not have to make a distinction between believers and nonbelievers; let's go to the root: humanity. Before God, we are all his children."
Reflecting on the Lenten season, the pope said that acts of prayer and fasting are an exercise that "trains us to look at the others with solidarity, especially those who suffer."
The prayers being said throughout the world during this crisis, he added, were like the apostles in the boat crying out to Jesus amid the raging storm. Much like the disciples, there are many crying out today "who are drowning, who feel threatened, alone."
"And in a difficult, desperate, situation it is important to know that there is the Lord to hold on to," the pope said. "God supports us in many ways. God gives us strength and closeness just as he did with the disciples who asked for help in the storm or when he gave his hand to Peter who was drowning."
The pope was asked for his thoughts about reports that many patients infected with the virus, known as COVID-19, are dying alone in isolation without being able to say goodbye to their loved ones.
Among the many heart wrenching anecdotes, the pope said he was "struck and grieved" by the story of a nurse who lent her phone to an elderly woman so that she could say goodbye to her granddaughter.
"This is the ultimate need to have a hand taking your hand, to have a last gesture of companionship," he said. "The pain of those who died without saying goodbye becomes a wound in the heart of those who remain."
He also thanked the nurses, doctors and health care volunteers who, "despite the extraordinary fatigue, bend down with patience and with the kindness of their heart to make up for the obligatory absence of family members."
Pope Francis said the expressions of solidarity today amid the pandemic are a reminder that "humankind is one community," and he hoped that when the crisis is over, much like a "postwar period, there will no longer be 'the other,' but rather 'us.'"
"We will have to look at the roots even more: the grandparents, the elderly, to build a real sense of fraternity among all of us," the pope said. "To remember this difficult experience that we all lived through together and to move forward with hope, which never disappoints. These will be the keywords for starting again: roots, memory, brotherhood and hope."