Pope Francis encouraged Brazil’s Christians on Wednesday to confront the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic together this Lent.
In a message marking the start of the country’s Ecumenical Fraternity Campaign on Ash Wednesday, the pope underlined the importance of unity as Brazil struggles to contain the virus.
“We have to overcome the pandemic and we will do so to the extent that we are able to overcome divisions and unite around life,” he said in the message dated Feb. 17.
South America’s largest country has been hit hard by COVID-19. More than 240,900 people have died of the virus in Brazil as of Feb. 17, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The country, which has a population of 211 million people, has the world’s second-highest death toll after that of the United States.
The pope noted in his message that the Catholic Church in Brazil has held an annual fraternity campaign in Lent for decades “as a concrete help to live this time of preparation for Easter.”
This year, for the fifth time, the Catholic bishops’ conference is overseeing the campaign jointly with the National Council of Christian Churches of Brazil.
The theme of this year’s campaign is “Fraternity and Dialogue: Commitment of Love,” inspired by Ephesians 2:14: “For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh.”
The pope said: “As I pointed out in the recent encyclical ‘Fratelli tutti,’ ‘Once this health crisis passes, our worst response would be to plunge even more deeply into feverish consumerism and new forms of egotistic self-preservation.’ To prevent this from happening, Lent is a great help to us, since it calls us to conversion through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.”
Citing his 2013 apostolic exhortation “Evangelii gaudium,’ he continued: “By promoting dialogue as a commitment of love, the fraternity campaign reminds us that Christians are the first to have to set an example, beginning with the practice of ecumenical dialogue.”
“With the certainty that ‘we must never forget that we are pilgrims journeying alongside one another,’ in ecumenical dialogue we can truly ‘have sincere trust in our fellow pilgrims, putting aside all suspicion or mistrust, and turn our gaze to what we are all seeking: the radiant peace of God’s face.’”
The pope said he hoped that this year’s fraternity campaign would be fruitful.
“The fruitfulness of our witness will also depend on our capacity to dialogue, to find points of unity and to translate them into actions in favor of life, especially the life of the most vulnerable,” he wrote.