On an evening in March, as we found ourselves in the grip of a global pandemic, we witnessed an event that seemed to capture the uncertainty of a world on the brink.
As night fell, Pope Francis, a solitary figure in white, walked through a rain-dappled St. Peter’s Square. In the gathering darkness, he looked out on an empty square and prayed.
The Holy Father, leader of a billion believers, was utterly alone.
We realized we were watching more than a man at prayer; we were glimpsing history in the making: his and ours.
“For weeks now it has been evening,” he said. “Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost.”
In the days before this event, the Holy See had described it as a moment of prayer that would be “extraordinary.” It was — in every sense. But so is this moment we are living in now.
Months later, we are confronting a world far different from the one we knew. Some cities remain in lockdown. We have changed the way we live, work, teach, pray. The death toll continues to climb and we live now with “social distancing” — grieving alone, worshiping from afar, watching Mass on a computer or a phone.
The world has changed. And that includes the world of CNEWA.
In March, we shut down our headquarters office in New York City. We began working remotely, most from our homes. Our regional offices around the world also had to close. For the first time in decades, we found ourselves cut off from the people we serve — disconnected from those most in need of connection: the homebound, the orphaned, the isolated, the sick.
But soon, our partners in the field, defying every known risk, were venturing out. They visited the homes of the elderly, the sick or the poor. Wearing masks and gloves, sisters and priests and volunteers were bringing supplies to those in need, everything from medicine to food to simply a loving glance or a tender touch. We realized, with a humbling clarity, that while the world was trying to contain the coronavirus, nothing could contain the Gospel. Love could not be stopped.
That, in essence is the very message contained in this special summer edition of ONE. This edition is an attempt to offer what one person has described as the truest definition of journalism — that is, “the first rough draft of history.” It is a shared history, ours and yours, during a time of unprecedented anxiety.
It is also, we found, a time of unvarnished hope.
This is the hope that is bound inextricably to love — the love that, St. Paul told us, bears all things, believes all things. It is a love that cares for others, even in the most difficult of circumstances. It never fails.
In these pages, you will find all that expressed in “Voices From the Pandemic.” Together these comprise what we believe is a chorus of faith, hope and love. They are voices from many backgrounds, many walks of life. But they tell stories that the world has not yet heard, from places that newspapers and magazines often overlook, involving people whom society too easily skips over or forgets. These are people who do not usually have a place to share their stories with you.
But they do now; you are holding it in your hands.
There are so many stories to tell, we soon realized they cannot be limited to just 40 pages, so we decided to extend this series to all our social media platforms. We are sharing “Voices From the Pandemic” as a regular feature on our blog, on Facebook, on Twitter and on Instagram.
In many ways, telling these stories has been a labor of love, underscoring our commitment to sharing stories of lives from CNEWA’s world full of courage and tenacity and hope.
It is a story — one that is, of course, far from over.
CNEWA’s work with those affected by this crisis has just started a new chapter. In April, Pope Francis called on the world to remember those most vulnerable to the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic. In his Easter “Urbi et Orbi” message, delivered “to the city and the world,” the Holy Father said:
“This is not a time for indifference, because the whole world is suffering and needs to be united in facing the pandemic. May the risen Jesus grant hope to all the poor, to those living on the peripheries, to refugees and the homeless. May these, the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters living in the cities and peripheries of every part of the world, not be abandoned.”
And he followed suit by establishing a COVID campaign. In solidarity with the Holy Father, CNEWA has partnered with the Holy See’s Congregation for the Eastern Churches, delegates and nuncios of the Holy See, local church superiors, and religious and lay leaders, launching a campaign to help address the urgent needs of those we serve in the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe. All funds raised through this effort are going directly to COVID-19 relief — helping, in a particular way, families living in poverty, children and the elderly, as well as people with special needs, refugees and the displaced.
As a part of this, you will find an insert in this magazine with one more special “Voice From the Pandemic,” that of Msgr. John E. Kozar, offering details about how you can be a part of this urgent effort, first by offering your prayers, and secondly by considering making a gift.
Please take some time to read, too, his final Focus essay, beginning on Page 34. As Msgr. Kozar begins a well-earned retirement, he offers us some personal reflections about those he has met during his years at CNEWA — and shares what they have to tell us about the challenges we are all facing today.
Two weeks after his historic prayer service in an empty St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis spoke to the world again at Easter, recalling the message of the Resurrection of Jesus, which is intrinsic to our mission at CNEWA, and one that sums up best our purpose in every edition of ONE.
“This is a different ‘contagion,’ ” he said, “a message transmitted from heart to heart — for every human heart awaits this Good News.