Pope Francis has issued a warning to businesses over the coronavirus crisis, cautioning them “it’s not the time to fire people, it’s the time to welcome them”.

– “‘Every man for himself’ thinking isn’t the answer”

The pontiff was speaking March 22 in a TV interview on Skype with Spanish journalist Jordi Évole.

Asked about his reaction to the fact “many businesses are firing very many workers”, in the reporter’s words, with the excuse of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pope said that although “concrete solutions” to the economic crisis “must be sought by different people in different situations… certainly, ‘every man for himself’ thinking isn’t the answer”.

“It’s not the solution for a company to fire people to save itself”, Francis warned.

“At this moment, rather than firing people, we must welcome them, and make sure solidarity is felt in society”.

“Big gestures are what’s needed now”, the Pope insisted, just days after confirming that this week he’ll bring together officials of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development “to start studying measures for the day after the pandemic”.

– Alone in the “desert” of St. Peter’s, but still “working as normal”

As to whether or not the world should have seen the pandemic coming, as well as prepared for the associated economic crisis that’s now taken hold, Francis admitted that “we all sinned in some way in underestimating the problem”.

“There’s a saying… God always forgives. We forgive from time to time. Nature never forgives. Fires, earthquakes … nature is throwing a tantrum for us to take care of her”.

The “problem”, as the Pope described it, of huge numbers of COVID-19 infected and dead, mass layoffs and difficult-to-bear quarantine and social distancing measures is something the Pope himself is experiencing first-hand too.

He explained that feeling by admitting that he feels immersed “in this new issue too” and somewhat alone in the “desert” of the now-closed St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, if maintaining his routine of personal audiences and “working as normal”.

To those who have lost loved ones to coronavirus, the Pope said the last thing he would want to do is give them platitudes, instead affirming that he would simply would like them to feel his closeness.

“Today the language of gestures is more important than that of words”, Francis explained.

– As a human family, “we’ll come out of this better”

In another moment in the TV interview with Évole, Francis expressed his hope that the coronavirus crisis “teaches… people to rethink their lives”.

As humans, “we’ll come out of this better” on the other side, the Pope promised, even if he did admit that the human family, after the COVID-19 contagion, will be “fewer, of course; many will fall by the wayside and it will be tough, but I have faith”.

“I have hope in humanity, in men and women, I have hope in the peoples [of the world]… I have a lot of hope”, Francis said.

Though he did admit that he doesn’t think of himself as an “optimist”, because that’s “a word I don’t like, because optimism sounds like makeup” covering up a difficult reality.

– “I’ve had my crises of faith”

That “faith” in both humanity and in God is something the Pope admitted on TV he hasn’t always had, in another of his revealing comments to Spanish journalist Évole.

“I’ve had my crises of faith and I have sorted them out by the grace of God”, Francis explained.

He added that in this particular moment of great tribulation for the world he doesn’t doubt the existence of God, but in the past he has.

“No one is saved from the common path of all people, which is the best, safest, concrete path. And that does us all good”, the pontiff affirmed, insisting too that the world can make the most of this crisis to solve the problems of “hypocritical and thoughtless societies” that don’t take proper care for those who suffer and have forgotten the value of “living together”, and of “closeness” to each other.

– Gratitude to healthcare professionals and others on the frontlines, “the saints next door”

In his conversation on Spanish TV, the Pope, finally, had a word of encouragement, respect and gratitude for the healthcare professionals, law and order officials and other workers at the coalface these days making sure society doesn’t come to a grinding halt altogether.

“I admire them: they teach me how to engage and I thank them for the testimony”, Francis said.

“Doctors, nurses, volunteers … who have to sleep on the stretchers because there are no more beds in the hospital and cannot go home; that’s the life they’re living”.

“I like to use a word, which is good for me: the saints next door”, the Pope said, describing those on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.

More on Novena on the coronavirus crisis:

23/3: Pope prays in Santa Marta Mass for economic victims of coronavirus, urges “perseverance and courage”

Pope announces worldwide prayer Wednesday, special blessing Friday for end to virus plague

French Jesuit economist urges world to learn lessons from coronavirus: “There’ll be other pandemics, that’s for sure”

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.