(Source: Paolo Conti, Corriere della Sera, via Sant’Egidio; translation: Novena)

An essay written by President of the Vatican Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia – “Pandemia e fraternità. La forza dei legami umani riapre il futuro” (“Pandemic and fraternity: The strength of human bonds reopens the future”) – has just been published.

Paglia’s essay seeks to open an ethical and cultural debate about the perspectives offered by “starting again”.

A note recently issued by the same Academy presented the central elements of the debate.

You write: “The emergency that COVID-19 has caused can be overcome in the first place with the antibodies of solidarity. We live in times in which no government, no society, no type of scientific community should be considered self-referential”. Isn’t that too optimistic a view? Don’t you think that once the emergency is over, we will return to the “world of before”?

I don’t think so.

There’ll be a temptation to exorcise fear by simply going back to the rites of our previous nonchalance and not wanting to see reality; that’s understandable. But the nonchalance will be different; that’s inevitable.

The impact has been strong. We all thought that we were going to be healthier and more beautiful, more invulnerable and stronger, owners of the world thanks to science and technology. And that much only because we put the sick and the dead, the weak and the vulnerable, in an invisible quarantine; we kept them out of the representation of life that simply lives life.

Now we are all forced to put everything out in the open and suddenly we remember, by the mere fact of our breathing, that we are mortal.

We have not cared about our tender shared vulnerability and are now forced to live that by ourselves.

To help each other, we are forced to be apart. The individualism that we have cultivated returns now as a punishment: if you want to live, you have to be alone. But alone, one dies. And one dies badly.

Once the emergency is over, we won’t be able to avoid having to make a habit of a human coexistence that appreciates again how beautiful it is to take care of the community, at all costs.

You announce a “farewell to an individualistic, inhospitable, and unemotional lifestyle of economic, political and institutional ties of our own making”. But how can this be combined with the laws of the market, which do not usually take feelings into account?

Our problem is not the laws of the market but the market of laws.

The famous rules of coexistence with which a society is endowed are increasingly becoming commodities that suit economically stronger subjects and exclude economically weaker ones.

This pressure is already felt in those vital spheres most sensitive to the value and wealth of truly human qualities: the family, education, school, culture and art.

And I add a paradox: the most sensitive indicator of the spiritual qualities of a culture is precisely health, the place where the spiritual quality of mutual care, which allows a community to live, is put to the test.

We see that in plain sight, in its moving and dramatic aspect, in this tragic emergency.

Illness, you write, is one of those things that we all have in common. This is demonstrated by the COVID-19 experience. Is illness more than ever an element of our daily life?

Illness and vulnerability are part of life, of our existence, of the fact of our being “mortal”. But we have to mobilise resources so that there are “human” models of care that promote the dignity of people.

We have neglected the elderly and the poor. Does that make us feel better? Have we saved money and resources? I don’t think so. In fact, I’m sure we haven’t.

We are a “throwaway” society that behaves in the same way with the “discarded” as with plastic containers: we throw them into the sea.

I ask myself: to get out of the creeping melancholy of our frustrated delirium of omnipotence – which is now a collective anguish – is there a more exciting way than to dedicate the resources of the community to shared education, to shared work, to shared care?

Shouldn’t global economic power show in this field and not on the stock market the most credible proof of its promises (which we finance)?

You speak of a “transformation of interconnection into solidarity”. Do you think that will resist the endgame of this emergency?

In the end, only one great thing will remain: universal brotherhood. We are interconnected. We are brothers and sisters. It’s not just biology: it’s the human race. It’s the substance of biology.

The others depend on me, and vice versa. This is the lesson these days. Let’s do what corresponds to us as citizens. We’re doing it.

After, may the politicians do the same to design truly solidary societies and so that there are opportunities for economic, social and cultural development for all. And may the scientists not give in to sovereignty, to the pressure of politics or the market, placing themselves on the pedestal of being the only truth for this time.

Incensing and worshiping the statue of the emperior – whoever it is – is never a good thing.

In the Note of the Pontifical Academy, the concept of “integral ecology”, so treasured by Pope Francis, appears repeatedly. It is not, therefore, just about the protection of the ecosystem…

Caring is the territory that the Church of tomorrow has to explore. And “caring” involves not only others, but also the environment and habitat.

Nature, the city, and human society have to coexist more happily, living up to current transformations. It hasn’t really started happening yet.

One should not inhabit the world in vain, consuming it carelessly. We have to deliver it in better conditions to future generations: the ethical disregard for the transmission of life, into which our secularised culture is settling, is the shame of this age.

The testimony of the faith is not governed by an interest in pleasing an ecological ideology or a particular communitarianism. The voice of the Pope should not be misinterpreted on this.

The Christian faith is especially called to maintain the beauty of the bond between generations, the emotional reserve of social friendship and civil fraternity.

The transmission of the life of the spirit and the initiation to its mysterious promise is the commandment “zero” of creation, which precedes any other.

More from the Vatican on COVID-19:

COVID-19: Pontifical Academy reminds governments healthcare rationing must only be “last resort”

Vatican cardinal denounces COVID-19 exposing “vulnerability and fragility” of elderly in nursing homes

In special COVID-19 prayers, Pope expresses hope “enormous funds” spent on arms may be redirected to research

Vatican official: Coronavirus “not God’s punishment, but our own self-punishment”


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.