Cardinal Gregory offers a prayer during CNN's evening program Feb. 22, 2021, remembering over 500,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19. (CNS screen capture/Andrew Biraj, Catholic Standard)

WASHINGTON (CNS)—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 eternal 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.

Washington Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory offered a prayer for those who have died from Covid-19 asking God to “grant eternal peace to all our sisters and brothers lost to this disease.”

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.

On Monday evening, President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their families gathered at the White House to mark a moment of silence for those who have died from Covid-19. Shortly before the ceremony, Mr. Biden delivered remarks in which he noted the milestone comes during Lent, which he called, “a season of reflection and renewal.” He pointed to the reality that many Americans have died from Covid while being isolated in hospitals, away from family and loved ones.

“As a nation, we can’t accept such a cruel fate. While we have been fighting this pandemic for so long, we have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow. 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, but equally important, care for the living and those left behind,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Biden urged Americans to continue to take precautions to fight the spread of the coronavirus and to get vaccinated when possible. If those steps are taken, he said, life will return to normal sooner rather than later.

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.

“This nation will smile again. This nation will know sunny days again. This nation will know joy again,” he said. “And as we do, we will remember each person we’ve lost, the lives they lived, the loved ones they left behind. We will get through this, I promise you. But my heart aches for you, those of you who are going through it right now.”

Cardinal Gregory echoed those calls for vaccination during his appearance on CNN.

“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.”

On Monday evening, President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their families gathered at the White House to mark a moment of silence for those who have died from Covid-19.

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 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.”

Other church leaders offered prayers and reflection in light of the grim national milestone.

Writing that the statistics are difficult to comprehend, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago said in a statement: “We would do better imagining those lost as individual human beings, a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a daughter, a son, each connected to many others who suffer the heartache of their passing. How can we help those left behind cope with their grief? How can we transform our own dismay and fear into action?”

He added that action should follow prayer and gave a list of ways people can respond to the ongoing suffering inflicted by the pandemic—including seeking out vaccines.

“Call someone living in isolation. Support and volunteer at organizations that feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, protect the vulnerable and visit the imprisoned. Honor these members of our human family and the sacred dignity of all human life by doing our part to break the back of this contagion: wear a mask, keep your distance and avoid gatherings. That is the least we can do. And, for God’s sake and our own take the Covid vaccine to protect your and everyone’s life,” he said.

Other church leaders used social media to calls for prayers:

Michael J. O’Loughlin contributed to this report.

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