A world to mend

Contemporary society, Covid crisis, and the new “plague-spreaders”

by card. Gualtiero Bassetti

Today we need, more than ever, the virtue of prudence. There are in fact conflicting signs in the Covid-19 crisis that has been marking the lives of the inhabitants of the whole planet for months now. While Italy is trying to go back to a “normal” lifestyle, the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, says that the pandemic “continues to accelerate” all over the world.

In fact, the new health-related alarms from Germany, United States, Brasil, China, etc., keep overlapping the everyday news, the official statistics, the heroic witness of medical personnel, as well as a long set of bold theories on the origin and the actual dimensions of the pandemic. A turmoil of rumors, comments, judgments stringed together so as to build sort of a new Babel.

During these months of quarantine, many Italian columnists recalled Alessandro Manzoni’s 19th century novel I Promessi Sposi (“The Bethroted”). In that precious masterpiece of Italian literature many parallels with our situation can be detected – from an attitude of unbelieving against the safety measures at the beginning of the plague to the tragic deaths in the “lazar house”, all the way up to some “passionate people” who rave during the trials against so-called untori, the supposed plague-spreaders. The latter element is maybe one of the most worrisome phenomena in our contemporary world.

The main risk in such a period is that from fear there may issue social rage. Rage that forgets the virus, the “invisible enemy,” in order to attack some new “plague-spreaders,” who could be listed in this order: a foreign country guilty of producing or exporting the virus, a State organization (a Region, a school) blamed for being unable to manage the crisis, a social class that supposedly gets undue economic protection (the clerks), even a Church community seen as responsible for the spreading of the infection. The list of those guilty, the new scapegoats, might become a very long – and very dangerous – one.

The list of the new untori, in fact, is dramatically magnified in our world, which is a connected and globalized one, but radically wound and divided at the same time. Our social fabric has been long torn and unraveled; and such tearing apart, more and more visible, is progressively destroying the deepest meaning of brotherhood, communion, living together. In their stead, an exaggerated individualism and persistent ethical relativism seem to reign. Precisely from these distressing social dimensions of contemporary man, individualism and relativism, comes a need to see the other people as “plague-spreaders,” as guilty, rather than friends, rather than persons whose face is the very face of Christ.

The duty of Christians and all the people of good will is to overturn this viewpoint. In all zeal, joy, and humbleness, we have a great mission for today and tomorrow: to mend this ripped world. Individualism and ethical relativism are false answers to the big questions of nowadays. What we do need, instead, is the eye of the Good Samaritan, that love that mercifully acts and mends that which has been torn, unites that which has been divided, loves those who are hated. This is a vast mission of charity and evangelization – since we cannot foresee what the world will be after the pandemic. Quoting Alessandro Manzoni, “what comes next is not always a progress.”

(translation by Dario Rivarossa)