Laudato si’ was an extraordinary wake-up call, and COVID-19 is the same alarm that rings with force and urgency”, Vatican cardinal Michael Czerny has said.

– “Confinement puts millions more in a deadly dilemma: work or starve”

“COVID-19 is serving as a magnifying glass or as an X-ray to expose even more vividly, even more dramatically, the urgent planetary situation that Laudato si’ revealed five years ago [and] the fissures of human injustice and environmental degradation”, Czerny, the under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, told Italian Bishops’ newspaper Avvenire May 21.

“The coronavirus crisis begins with the damaging of health, but it has terrible socio-economic consequences, especially among the most vulnerable”, Czerny warned.

He offered as an example of the socio-economic effects of the virus the many people who during confinement have lost their jobs and “will never get them back, due to robotisation”.

“Confinement puts millions more in a deadly dilemma: work or starve”, the cardinal deplored.

Czerny went on to say that “the ecological crisis is similar” to the COVID-19 situation, in that “it begins with environmental damage, but has devastating consequences on work, food, health and other social issues, hitting the poorest hardest”.

Both the coronavirus and the environmental crisis “require innovative solutions that are available everywhere”, the cardinal urged.

– “‘Reconstruction’ or ‘recovery’ sounds like more of the same old stuff”

As to what those “innovative solutions” to both crises might look like, Czerny first of all explained that “even though environmental abuse and degradation probably contributed to the emergence and spread of the virus”, the deeper explanation for both COVID-19 and environmental damage is to be found in the “fundamental anti-values upon which competitive and consumerist civilisation compulsively evolves”.

“So if we really want to rebuild – not just return to the self-destructive, inhumane, unfair and unsustainable syndromes that used to be ‘normal’ until early 2020 – then the only approach is dialogue, which means honestly involving all concerned”, the cardinal affirmed.

Czerny also stressed, however, that perhaps the idea of “rebuilding” after the environmental and coronavirus catastrophes might not capture all the nuances at stake.

“‘Reconstruction’ or ‘recovery’ sounds like more of the same old stuff”, he warned in that sense, recalling that Pope Francis prefers to speak of a “regeneration”.

“Taking something from the past, let us generate new relationships, new economies, a new society. Laudato si’ challenges the main drivers of unhealthy and destructive growth, proposing instead an inclusive and sustainable development that deserves the name ‘integral'”, Czerny highlighted.

– “Distorting our relationship with the Earth is a sin”

As for those Catholics who are still wary of the term “integral ecology” five years after the publication of Laudato si’, Czerny had a clear message.

“Before being a ‘socio-environmental issue’, creation is a fundamental act of faith: ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and Earth'”, the cardinal recalled, citing the first sentence of the Apostles’ Creed.

Catholics’ belief in the sacredness of the Earth, Czerny went on, necessarily has “dogmatic, moral, pastoral and spiritual consequences”.

He explained that “human life is based on three fundamental and closely interwoven relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the Earth itself, since the Earth is part of God’s loving creation”.

“Distorting any of these relationships is a sin; healing them and seeking harmony is the redeeming act we can do, moved by God’s grace”, the cardinal insisted.

“As St. John Paul II said, our responsibility within creation, and our duty to nature and the Creator, are essential parts of our faith”, Czerny underlined, inviting Catholics to “walk together and face together our unbelief, our fear”.

More on Novena on Laudato si’ Week:

Churches worldwide urge conversion to “economy of life” after “apocalyptic” COVID-19

Spanish Church groups deplore world’s model of “predatory development”, “avalanche of consumerism”

Malta Church Justice and Peace Commission laments: “When the environment is exploited, the first ones to suffer are the poor”

20/5: General Audience: Pope sings ode to Creation, “the Creation that we do not protect but which bears the signature of God”


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.