For generations, the influenza pandemic of 1918 was merely an event in our history books — something that happened during a world war, a time when people lived very different lives and modern medicine had not yet been invented. This pandemic too, will be registered in the history books. How humbling it is for our technologically advanced, well-educated and highly mobile culture to be brought low, frozen in place by a primitive lifeform. How disruptive to our illusions of control to see the collective knowledge of humankind fall tragically short. What can we as a church offer to those making decisions that affect millions? What can we say to each family, each person about the hard choices and possibly painful experiences facing them? We offer a faith- and values-based framework for making the difficult decisions inevitable in a crisis. Firmly grounded in a reverence for all human life, we implore the nation’s leaders to act swiftly without self-interest or self-regard to equip and safeguard our heroic healthcare workers. And we offer our prayers for those who stand at the bedside of the sick, often imperiling themselves. We offer our compassion and solidarity with those charged with maintaining the peace and keeping the lifelines of food and mail delivery, social services and other essential community functions open. We offer our support to all those keeping our children and young people focused on their studies under imperfect and stressful conditions. These include parents, grandparents and guardians pressed into service as teachers’ aides and study hall monitors. They are providing a measure of normalcy and teaching life-forming lessons in perseverance. We offer our commitment to fulfill the community outreach missions of our parishes and agencies. As Pope Francis asked, “Let us make our closeness felt to those who are alone and to those who are most stricken.” Numerous workers and volunteers have responded. We will, to the fullest extent possible, continue to feed, clothe and shelter those in need. And we offer our deepest condolences to those who suffer the loss of loved ones and the added heartbreak of being deprived of healing rituals and the comfort of friends. With our fervent prayers we commend the dead to the merciful embrace of God, whose love is everlasting. As a church, we are a humble instrument for God’s grace and God’s message of hope and love to all people. We may find it difficult to grasp why this crisis should deprive us of the usual means of grace in the public celebration of Mass and the other sacraments. This is especially so in these days of Holy Week and Easter, when we renew our baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Yet throughout history, Christians have been deprived of the sacraments by rulers and governments. Countries in Eastern Europe provide a particularly vicious example. This deprivation did not and does not have to mean that faith and devotion cease. It often increased. In our situation today, this deprivation is not imposed. We are choosing it out of love of neighbor and because we value human solidarity, which is itself an act of worship; and, like our forebears, we are not deprived of uniting hearts and minds in prayer. Pope Francis has invited us to join in what he calls “the universality of prayer, of compassion and tenderness.” The Holy Father’s words speak to many well beyond our own Catholic family. Everyone is invited to cultivate hope in their hearts — including those who do not believe. “We are all children of God, and he watches over us,” says Francis. “Even those who have not yet met God, those who do not have the gift of faith, can find their way through the good things that they believe in. They can find strength in their love for their children, their family, their brothers and sisters. Someone might say: ‘I cannot pray because I do not believe.’ But at the same time,” he concludes, “we can believe in the love of the people we have around us, and there we can find hope.” What this pandemic reveals about our society is already becoming clear. How it shapes our future is in our hands. We pray that the choices we make today will be remembered as serving the common good. And we hope in the end it will yield a clearer vision of what is truly important in all our lives. Please know that all of us who serve the archdiocese are praying for you, our community and country and everyone in the human family around the world. We very much need and appreciate your prayers and support.