COVID-19: A Time like No Other

Everything is interconnected, as Pope Francis so aptly reminds us in his encyclical Laudato Si’ (LS §70, 138, 240). We never thought that the coronavirus, which started in one country at the end of 2019, would eventually affect the whole planet. However, on their return from trips, people unwittingly transmitted the disease and the epidemic became a pandemic! Virtually every country in the world has been affected. We are interconnected for better and for worse! What message does this send us?  Will COVID-19 affect our vulnerability and bring out the best in us? Will it help us to be more open to others, to all those in difficulty with whom we share a common humanity and a common destiny? Will we turn it into a new moment of egalitarian relations where life, all life, will take precedence over the economy and unbridled consumption?

This pandemic, by its magnitude, has had a very significant impact on the global economy, on society in general, and especially on human rights around the world. Many industries and businesses have closed; employees have been laid off, without any source of income, creating inequality, more poverty and also more domestic violence. The environment has not been spared either: although pollution has been greatly reduced due to the abrupt shutdown of most industries, the abundant use of plastics is seriously harming our planet during this pandemic.

Were we prepared for such a crisis?

The answer is no, since globalization has its negative consequences, calling into question world food security with severe shortages of food, medicines and equipment due to export restrictions. Some exporting countries have held back their products for fear of running out. This reflects a world that is not concerned about solidarity, but rather an individualistic and extremely vulnerable society.

How will we ever get out of this?

As Pope Francis said in Laudato Si’, “We need a new and universal solidarity”. (LS§ 14)

We have been told over and over again that, even while being confined at home, we need to be in solidarity with others, remaining in contact with them in every possible way.

This crisis is first and foremost a human tragedy where people, rather than things, must take priority. We need to reflect on our core values and to act for a more just and sustainable society for all. It is important to ensure trade, in order to avoid shortages, especially in the poorest countries. It is also important to be involved socially, possibly giving donations or participating as volunteers in food banks, making masks, helping with homework for students, etc.

We need to give, to share and to be in solidarity with others.

And after the crisis?

Are we going to continue to nurture relationships as we did during the confinement? Are we going to be a presence that gives meaning to life, to the lives of the most vulnerable in society?

Or will our lives return to the way they were before? Will we allow ourselves to break with our old patterns as consumers “contaminated” by a purely commercial and utilitarian spirit? Or will we be open to a simpler lifestyle that respects the planet and focuses on sharing its resources with all its present inhabitants, as well as those of future generations?

Let us remember God’s magnificent plan for human beings: “I have come down to deliver them, to bring them up […] to a country that I have searched out for them, a good and wide land flowing with milk and honey, the loveliest of all lands.” (Exodus 3:8 and Ezekiel 20:6).

Sr Claudette Bastien, snjm and Hanane Hakkou, members of the Coordinating Committee SNJM JPIC