Pope Francis Reflects on the COVID-19 Pandemic and Its Meaning
"Six feet has never felt so far, but anyone can be an attack vector – a Trojan horse carrying this invisible enemy inside. Even those who have no symptoms. As much as every Christian wants to share the Good News that’s coming on Sunday, doing so in person this year could cause some very bad news." (Washington Post
The swift, devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic forces new ways of thinking. Religious leaders are among those reflecting on what this means, for the present and for the future. Pope Francis in a lengthy interview published on April 8 offers much food for thought, focusing sharply on those who face special vulnerabilities. A few excerpts and stories he tells offer provocative messages:
"This crisis is affecting us all, rich and poor alike. I am worried by the hypocrisy of certain political personalities who speak of facing up to the crisis, of the problem of hunger in the world, butwho in the meantime manufacture weapons. This is a time to be converted from this kind of functional hypocrisy. It’s a time for integrity. Either we are coherent with our beliefs or we lose everything."
"This is the moment to see the poor. Jesus says we will have the poor with us always, and it’s true. They are a reality we cannot deny. But the poor are hidden, because poverty is bashful. In Rome recently, in the midst of the quarantine, a policeman said to a man: 'You can’t be on the street, go home.' The response was: 'I have no home. I live in the street.' To discover such a large number of people who are on the margins…. And we don’t see them, because poverty is bashful. They are there but we don’t see them: they have become part of the landscape; they are things... Right now, the homeless continue to be homeless. A photo appeared the other day of a parking lot in Las Vegas where they had been put in quarantine. And the hotels were empty. But the homeless cannot go to a hotel. That is the throwaway culture in practice."
"You speak of the isolated elderly: solitude and distance. How manyelderly there are whose children do not go and visit them in normal times! I remember in Buenos Aires when I visited old people’s homes, I would ask them: And how’s your family? Fine, fine! Do they come? Yes, always! Then the nurse would take me aside and say the children hadn’t been to see them in six months. Solitude and abandonment…distance... Yet the elderly continue to be our roots. And they must speak to the young. This tension between young and old must always be resolved in the encounter with each other. Because the young person is bud and foliage, but without roots they cannot bear fruit. The elderly are the roots. I would say to them, today: I know you feel death is close, and you are afraid, but look elsewhere, remember your children, and do not stop dreaming. This is what God asks of you: to dream (Joel 3:1)."
"The creativity of the Christian needs to show forth in opening up new horizons, opening windows, opening transcendence toward God and toward people, and in creating new ways of being at home. It’s not easy to be confined to your house. What comes to my mind is a verse from the Aeneid in the midst of defeat: the counsel is not to give up, but save yourself for better times, for in those times remembering what has happened will help us. Take care of yourselves for a future that will come. And remembering in that future what has happened will do you good."
"Yes, I see early signs of an economy that is less liquid, more human. But let us not lose our memory once all this is past, let us not file it away and go back to where we were. This is the time to take the decisive step, to move from using and misusing nature to contemplating it. We have lost the contemplative dimension; we have to get it back at this time.
"What comes now to mind is another verse of Virgil’s, at the end of Book 2 of the Aeneid, when Aeneas, following defeat in Troy, has lost everything. Two paths lie before him: to remain there to weep and end his life, or to follow what was in his heart, to go up to the mountain and leave the war behind. It’s a beautiful verse. Cessi, et sublato montem genitore petivi
('I gave way to fate and, bearing my father on my shoulders, made for the mountain').”
(Based on April 8, 2020, Commonweal
interview with Pope Francis and April 9, 2020 Washington Post