Life after the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic hit Italy and then the whole world in March 2020 with astonishing consequences provoking a health crisis.. It not only destroyed the hopes and future of the entire world, but also took the lives of many.

Jan 09, 2021

By Archbishop Joseph Marino

A reading through the reflections of Pope Francis
In this work, Archbishop Joseph Marino, President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy and Fr Boya Johny of the Diocese of Alleppey (India) summarise the reflections of Pope Francis during the pandemic dividing them into three headings: Faith, Hope and Love.

Firstly, Pope Francis imparted to the Catholic Church and the world the depth of faith in God (his prayer and message during the extraordinary Urbi et Orbi on Mar 27, 2020).

Secondly, he exhorted everyone to spread the “contagion of hope” (his message during Easter and other occasions).

Thirdly, he opened the eyes of people to acts of love and solidarity, which the world must show to come out of the pandemic (his catechesis on the theme of pandemic during his general audience and the continuous reflections until today).

The starting point of this reflection is based on the extraordinary Urbi et Orbi, which contains in a nutshell all the successive reflections and homilies.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit Italy and then the whole world in March 2020 with astonishing consequences provoking a health crisis.. It not only destroyed the hopes and future of the entire world, but also took the lives of many.

Pope Francis, feeling the suffering of humankind, did not remain silent or unseen while a silent and unseen virus overtook the world. He immediately made his voice heard in various ways and allowed the world to see its shepherd in prayer and in action. During this period of pandemic, the Holy Father offered the Church and the world continuous and profound reflections not only on the health crisis which humanity was undergoing, but, as a true shepherd pointed to the future, to life after the pandemic, proposing a challenging vision with concrete solutions inspired by the Gospel.

1. Faith in our Lord
Mar 27, 2020 in the evening.

It was a special evening, the first of its kind in the history of the Catholic Church, when a Pope addressed the people from an empty St Peter’s Square. Pope Francis held the extraordinary Urbi et Orbi on the steps of the Basilica. Usually a colourful event reserved only for Christmas Day and Easter Sunday, this extraordinary blessing was in keeping with the gravity of the current global situation, as more than half of the world’s population was confined to their homes to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Standing in a deserted St Peter’s Square with a steady rain falling, Pope Francis spoke to the world through the means of modern communication (Facebook, YouTube, TV, and radio). During the prayer he said:

For weeks now it has been evening. 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 noticed in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel, we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other.

No one would ever have imagined that it was just a beginning of “dark evenings” in the lives of millions of people in the world, where the light of their ordinary days was overshadowed by the darkness of the pandemic. At this critical juncture, the Holy Father prayed for the world in the presence of two images that have accompanied the people of Rome for centuries: the ancient icon of Mary Salus Populi Romani – usually housed in the Basilica of St Mary Major – and the miraculous Crucifix kept in the church of San Marcello on the city’s Via del Corso. On that evening, as Cardinal Turkson underlines in the book To Heal the World, “he resembled the suffering servant of God in the prophecy of Isaiah (Is 52:13-53:12), bearing the brokenness, the pain and the bewilderment of a humanity which was afflicted and terrorised by a virus, and for whose infection it had no remedy”. He expressed the collective anxiety of all, while offering a meditation on the crisis facing the world, and also reflecting on a passage from the Gospel of Mark (4:35-41). He compared the situation of the world to that of the disciples whose boat was in danger of sinking while Jesus slept at the stern. According to the Pope, the pandemic has reminded us that we are all on the same boat, and so we call out to Jesus like the disciples asking Him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” The storm exposes “our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules” and lays bare “all those attempts to anaesthetize ourselves”. However, what is revealed is “our belonging as brothers and sisters”, our common humanity.

The Holy Father pointed out that we have all gone ahead “at breakneck speed”, ignoring the wars, injustice, and cries of the poor and our ailing planet. “We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick.” In our stormy sea, we now cry out: “Wake up, Lord!” He indicated to us that “in the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: Jesus is risen and is living by our side”. We are invited to embrace Jesus’ cross in the hardships of the pandemic, and become strong in our Faith. Thus, “embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.”

The Contagion on Hope
On Apr 11, 2020, Pope Francis presided over the most solemn and noblest of all solemnities, the Easter Vigil, on Saturday evening in a near empty St Peter’s Basilica. Millions around the globe, however, joined the Vicar of Christ through television, radio, and other digital platforms, to hear the Easter proclamation resound once again in their hearts, in their homes, and in the world. His homily focused on “two gifts” that the Risen Christ offers to every disciple of every age: hope and courage. According to the Pope:

Tonight we acquire a fundamental right that can never be taken away from us: the right to hope. It is a new and living hope that comes from God. It is not mere optimism; it is not a pat on the back or an empty word of encouragement, with a passing smile. No. It is a gift from heaven, which we could not have earned on our own. Over these weeks, we have kept repeating, “All will be well”, clinging to the beauty of our humanity and allowing words of encouragement to rise up from our hearts. But as the days go by and fears grow, even the boldest hope can dissipate. Jesus’ hope is different. He plants in our hearts the conviction that God is able to make everything work unto good, because even from the grave he brings life.

On the next day, Apr 12, in an Easter of solitude for many, lived amid the sorrow and hardship that the pandemic is causing, from physical suffering to economic difficulties, inside the Basilica, surrounded only by his closest collaborators, Pope Francis delivered his traditional Easter Urbi et Orbi message to the city of Rome and the world:

This disease has not only deprived us of human closeness, but also of the possibility of receiving in person the consolation that flows from the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and Reconciliation. But the Lord has not left us alone. United in our prayer, we are convinced that He has laid His hand upon us.

He challenged everyone to ban indifference, self-centredness, division and forgetfulness during this time of COVID-19, and to spread the “contagion of hope”. He reminded us that the pandemic is not a time for indifference because the world is suffering and it needs to be united in facing the pandemic. He urged everyone to pray for all the poor, especially for all those living on the peripheries, the refugees and the homeless. It is also not a time for self-centredness, because everyone shares this common challenge. He proposed that now is the time that we recognise ourselves as part of a single family and support one another rather than selfishly pursuing particular interests and damaging the peaceful coexistence and development of future generations.

According to the Pope, indifference, selfcentredness, division and forgetfulness are words which we do not want to hear at this time. We want to ban those words forever, which seem to prevail when fear and death overwhelm us. In his letter to the Popular Movements on Apr 12, he imparted the same message:

In these days of great anxiety and hardship, many have used war-like metaphors to refer to the pandemic we are experiencing. If the struggle against COVID-19 is a war, then you are truly an invisible army, fighting in the most dangerous trenches; an army whose only weapons are solidarity, hope, and community spirit, all revitalising at a time when no one can save themselves alone. As I told you in our meetings, to me you are social poets because, from the forgotten peripheries where you live, you create admirable solutions for the most pressing problems afflicting the marginalised.

Pope Francis repeats the element of hope in his reflection which appeared on the website of the Spanish-language periodical Vida Nueva on Apr 17 (Reflection of Pope Francis- A Plan to Rise Again), where he continued his call to see the coronavirus pandemic in light of Christ’s resurrection and hope. As he indicates, the pandemic has helped people to realise the importance of uniting the entire human family in the search for sustainable and comprehensive development. The Pope pointed out his hope that humanity had developed the “antibodies of justice, charity, and solidarity” when faced with the temptation to return to “the globalisation of indifference.” According to the Holy Father we need to cultivate “a civilisation of hope” that rejects fear, discouragement, and passivity.

The Charity (and solidarity) needed to come out of the pandemic
I n his catechesis To Heal the World during the Wednesday Audiences (Nine catechesis from Aug 5 to Sept 30), Pope Francis sought to address the Church and the world with words of consolation. He proposed inspiring alternatives to former lifestyles, habits and social structures that the pandemic has shown to be deficient in equality and justice, unsustainable and needing drastic reform to uphold the central value of the human person. In order to prefigure a more just, inclusive and a sustainable world that can better pull us through the onslaught of the pandemic, the Pope invited everyone to join him on a new journey, whose road is guided by the teachings of Christ.

According to Pope Francis, the recovery from the pandemic is a common and collaborative venture. The pandemic lays bare the fragility of human existence and so, evokes our sense of inter-dependence and inter-relatedness. Discerning the path of healing and recovery through this pandemic is certainly not a thing for “lone rangers” nor “lookers on from the balcony”, but a global venture and a common venture. It is through communion and with a special attention to the weakest, the poor and creation. The pandemic has exposed a social ill of “social injustice”, in the forms of inequality, marginalisation etc. This can be overcome by the principle of “the preferential option for the poor” and through a conversion of our natural belongingness and inter-relatedness by creating a network of multiple relationships of love, justice and solidarity with other persons.

According to the Pope, we need to heal our world and society not only from the pandemic but from negative personal, social and political national sentiments of vain competition, rivalry, hatred, lack of cooperation, indifference and individualism. We need to heal our world through the nurturing of a civilisation of love that promotes the common good on all levels. A healing of our COVID-19 stricken world that is whole and wholesome must be the task of all. If solidarity meant that the healing of our world must be a joint-effort: all acting together to heal the world, then subsidiarity recognises that in certain cases, people must be helped and enabled to participate in and to contribute to this joint effort.

Thus, the new journey announced by Pope Francis is for a new future, with our gaze still fixed on Christ, our healer. Jesus’ healing is whole and wholesome. All aspects of the person and all areas of life are affected. Jesus now sends us forth to do likewise: to heal victims of COVID-19 virus and to heal our society of all that make it less human. For the God who consoles us in all our afflictions now sends us forth as consolers of those who are in any affliction (cf. 2 Cor. 1:3-5), and in his Spirit to renew the face of the earth.

The pandemic is changing the world and putting us in crisis. However, it is impossible to emerge from a crisis the same as before. Either we come out better or we come out worse. And how we emerge depends on the decisions we make during the crisis. As the Pope noted during an interview he gave to Carmen Magallón, the director of the Spanish edition of the periodical Il mio Papa, we need to stop thinking only of ourselves or the present, and look to the future in the perspective of a humanity which wants to remain in connection with creation. We must take responsibility for the future, preparing the ground so others can work it.

As the Holy Father wrote in his new Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti, a worldwide tragedy like the COVID-19 pandemic momentarily revived the sense that we are a global community, all in the same boat, where one person’s problems are the problems of all. Once more we realised that no one is saved alone; we can only be saved together. As he reminded us during the Extraordinary Moment of Prayer:

Amid this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about appearances, has fallen away, revealing once more the ineluctable and blessed awareness that we are part of one another, that we are brothers and sisters of one another.

It is hard to imagine that this global disaster is unrelated to the way one approaches reality, like the claim to be absolute masters of life and of all that exists. Once this health crisis passes, the worst response would be to plunge into an even more deeply feverish indifferentism and new forms of egotistic selfpreservation. The world will need to recover the shared passion to create a community of belonging and solidarity worthy of our time, our energy and our resources. While the world is looking forward to the day when the world comes out of the crisis, Christians must assure that no one is left behind or forgotten. In fact, a new “virus” could emerge, spread by the thought that life is better if it is better for me, and that everything will be fine if it is fine for me.

The underlying premise in all the talks of Pope Francis during these months of the pandemic is that the world will not come out of it the same as it was before. The question is what this new humanity will look like. He states in his book Let us dream, the path to a better future, published Dec 1, 2020: “God asks us to dare to create something new. To come out of this crisis better, we have to recover the knowledge that as a people we have a shared destination. What ties us to one another is solidarity. On this solid foundation we can build a better, different human future.” —

-- Archbishop Joseph Marino, President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy and Fr Boya Johny of the Diocese of Alleppey (India) and final year student of the Academy* *On Jan 5, 2021, Fr Boya was assigned, as Attaché, to the Apostolic Nunciature in Burkina Faso.

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