The Church and the pandemic: The value of life

During the lockdown, in Italy, the Catholic Church followed the rules decided by the Government, showing responsibility in spite of hardships. Now we must take a step beyond

by card. Gualtiero Bassetti

A public debate has risen about the world after the pandemic: a world (maybe) different from the current one, in which we will have to rethink ourselves and our system of reciprocal relationships. All of this is right and praiseworthy. In my humble opinion, however, this sudden, upsetting pandemic questions us especially about the present.

But our present – I think it important to stress – cannot make without its recent past, and it provides us at least four topics, starting from the effects of this “invisible enemy.”
For a starter, COVID-19 has shown, all too well, who are the last in our society, the frailest people, the helpless, those basically who most need protection and defense – in a word, the old people. They cannot be simply considered as a “protected category” nor, least of all, as a burdensome “cost” for the establishment. The old people on the contrary, thanks to their wisdom of life, are the keystone of our social architecture, the glue between generations, and a source of inexhaustible richness from which the young people can, and should, always draw.

Secondly, the pandemic brought to the forefront some subjects that modern humankind constantly tries to remove: death, suffering, frailty. The human beings have always been searching for some new Prometheus capable of freeing them from the chains of their caducity. A vain research. The political ideologies of the past centuries did not make man freer and happier. And above all, they did not make man immortal. In these last decades, then, political faiths have been replaced by an often uncritical trust in technological progress. Now, however, the Coronavirus questioned even the hopes in a human redemption through science.

Third, the complex healthcare situation put a serious, authoritative reflection about the freedom of thought at the core of the public debate. That does not mean – it must be stressed – being free to express in whatever way whatever idea may cross oneʼs mind, and not bother about verifying the truth of oneʼs statements, and especially not take any responsibility for what one says. So, the Italian President, Sergio Mattarella, was absolutely right when he said that “we cannot and must not forget” the people who died during the pandemic, and above all, we must not “mistake freedom for a right to have the other fall ill.” This is the time of responsibility and seriousness, putting aside – for the sake of each and all – fake news, negationisms, and bad information.

Finally, the fourth element for reflection concerns the reorganization of social life. We must do it today while looking at tomorrow. The data about the economical crisis we learn from the news are frightening. The still lowered shutters we see in many shops create bitterness and anxiety, because there are men, women, families behind those shutters. We must restart living, in all prudence and caution – but we must start again. With a heart bleeding because of this hard test, the Catholic Church in Italy too prepares to begin a new pastoral year; the Catholic Bishopsʼ Conference wrote a document on this subject, that has been sent to the dioceses. A document full of hope, surely not dealing with redtape rules to be followed in the churches.

During the lockdown period, with a great sense of responsibility in spite of hardships, we accepted the rules decided by the Government. Now it is our duty to take a step beyond. The present time itself asks us not to limit the horizon of our discernment and engagement to protocols, or to a search for short-term solutions. As a matter of fact, we are crossing a great epochal change, which requires a renewed encounter with the Gospel and a new proclamation of Kerygma: an encounter, a proclamation to promote and defend, everywhere, the value of life.

(translation by Dario Rivarossa)