WASHINGTON — During a Feb. 22 evening program on CNN, Washington Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory offered a prayer for those who have died from COVID-19 asking God to “grant enteral peace to all our sisters and brothers lost to this disease.”
“Let us now open our hearts to recall those who have died from the coronavirus,” Cardinal Gregory prayed. “Strengthen those families and friends who remain behind, to comfort one another and to wipe the tears from our eyes. May each one find peace and let the memory of our loved ones itself be a blessing.”
The cardinal called it “a great honor and privilege” to offer the prayer at the invitation of Jake Tapper, CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent on the program “We Remember 500,000: A National Memorial Service for Covid-19.”
It commemorated the milestone reached Feb. 22 when the United States surpassed 500,000 deaths due to the coronavirus.
Over 1,200 coronavirus deaths were reported Feb. 22, bringing the nationwide total to 500,103. More than 28.2 million Americans have been infected by the virus. Also, as of Feb. 22, close to 13% of the U.S. population has received the first round of the COVID-19 vaccine, and about 6% of Americans have received both shots.
President Joe Biden addressed the nation in a speech from the White House Feb. 22, calling the 500,000 deaths a “truly grim, heartbreaking milestone.”
He urged Americans to “resist becoming numb to the sorrow” brought on by the hundreds of thousands who died this past year, a number which he said is more than the Americans who died in the two world wars and the Vietnam War.
“We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic or a blur or on the news. And we must do so to honor the dead,” he said, but also to “care for the living and those left behind.”
The president’s address was prior to a moment of silence outside the White House, where he was joined by first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff. Alongside them were 500 lit candles symbolizing the 500,000 deaths. The Marine Corps band played “Amazing Grace,” and when the song ended, the president made the sign of the cross and the two couples went back inside.
“We pray that — regardless of race, age, religious heritage, economic or immigration status — all people are able to receive the life-saving vaccine to bring an end to our common suffering,” Cardinal Gregory prayed.
He also said that “our hearts are filled with gratitude for our doctors, nurses and emergency personnel” and prayed that “they remain well and be strengthened.”
“May the one who fashioned us help us to focus on our mutual humanity,” Cardinal Gregory prayed. “Although weary from so many months of isolation, help us not to lose hope, help us to continue to care for our neighbors as we remember those we have lost in this pandemic.”
Before he said the prayer, the cardinal pointed out that “the poor, the elderly, people of color have experienced a disproportionate amount of sadness” due to the coronavirus and he added that the pandemic “has increased our awareness of our common humanity.”
“We have been brought to a deeper awareness we are one people and this illness, this disease, this virus is no respecter of persons,” he said.
When he was asked by Tapper what the Catholic faith teaches about helping one another when it is not safe to physically come together, Cardinal Gregory said: “We Catholics are grateful that we have each other, even under these limited and painful moments when we cannot be with each other, to reach out and embrace and be in the presence of those who are suffering.”
He said the “sacramental reality” of the Catholic faith “is expressed in word and sacrament, in sign and prayer and music,” and “not being able to have a full display of those sacramental signs of our faith is itself an additional sorrow.”
In interviews during recent months, the cardinal has stressed the need to pray for those who have died of the coronavirus as well as their families and friends and to get the vaccine when it is made available to them.