The Bishop of the Algarve in southern Portugal, Manuel Quintas, has decried the “long-standing deep imbalance” in the world economy that has “only been made worse” by COVID-19.
– “It is very difficult to proclaim the Gospel to those who lack basic necessities”
In a pastoral letter published August 16 in diocesan publication Folha do Domingo, Bishop Quintas urged all members of the Church of the Algarve “to be on the front line in order to overcome indifference” in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
“It is very difficult to proclaim the Gospel to those who lack basic necessities as a consequence of the growing unemployment which is beginning to have harmful effects on many families”, the bishop alerted in his letter.
For that reason, he urged Catholics to redouble their “gestures of welcome, compassion, consolation and the sharing of goods” at this difficult time for so many.
– “Frightening” destruction of jobs and 232% increase in unemployment
In his text, the Portuguese prelate alerted that in Portugal the economy “has entered into recession” with a drop of 16.5% in GDP in the second quarter this year, with the current emergency “already being recognised as more serious than the financial crisis of 2012”.
Quintas also lamented that the tourism sector, “the most important” in the Algarve region, “has been severely affected” by COVID-19, and warned that “there are few expectations of an improvement in the situation”.
The bishop deplored that “it is clear that the Algarve is one of the regions most affected” by the coronavirus crisis, with the region suffering the destruction of a “frightening” 40% of its jobs.
Unemployment statistics in June “revealed an increase of 232% compared to 2019” with over 27,000 local people now out of work thanks to COVID-19, the bishop decried.
“We are aware of this, not only through business associations and the media, but above all through the people who come to us for help”, Quintas explained, making reference to the local Church’s contact with the situation on the ground through diocesan and parish Caritas, the Vincentians, soup kitchens and other Church social and charity organisations.
– On the economy and the provision of public healthcare, “it is time to do things differently”
Quintas reassured the faithful that “we want, as a diocesan Church, to give you all a word of hope and tell you that we want to be an active part not only in the reflection on this problem [of the coronavirus crisis], which is everyone’s, but also in our mobilisation on the front line, in support of those most in need [and] to revive public, family and Christian life”.
To help turn the economic situation around, the Bishop of the Algarve encouraged local Catholics “to value what is ours, not forgetting festivals and traditions, although living them in a different way, consuming local products, taking your holidays here, enjoying the regional gastronomy in restaurants and visiting our monuments and museums”.
Quintas also warned that “the Algarve has great needs in terms of social and health provision, which must be addressed”, and that “the public health system must seek equality of access and be strengthened in the region”.
In terms of the economy and social and health services, “it is time to do things differently”, the bishop declared.
Quintas added that “the awareness of living in difficult times leads us to ask for unity, community spirit and hope in the rediscovery of new paths on which common interests prevail over ideologies or personal interests”, and implored that in this task of rebuilding after COVID-19 Christians have a particular “responsibility”.
– To politicians: take responsibility for the most vulnerable
The Bishop of the Algarve also had a word of warning for politicians against imposing “complex and demanding administrative rules” on those seeking help at this time.
“When a shipwrecked person asks for help, he does not expect promises of help, subject to a discouraging bureaucracy, but instead that he be thrown a lifeline and be urgently helped out of the situation in which he finds himself”, Quintas wrote.
Finally, the Algarve bishop exhorted his clergy – and in particular parish priests and the laypeople who assist them – “to evaluate the need for a restructuring” of the Church’s social assistance activities “so that the whole community may feel on the front line” in terms of responding to the health, social and economic emergency.
(With reporting by Vatican News)