“This economy that creates or accepts so much poverty must change”, an Italian cardinal has said.

– “No one can save themselves by themselves”, especially in a time of pandemic

Speaking of the COVID-19 crisis, the Archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, told Spanish religion news website Vida Nueva in a May 5 interview that “a pandemic requires universality, not provincialisms and superficiality”.

The coronavirus, he said, “has made us understand that everything concerns us, that everything that ruins the environment jeopardises our own home, because it is one, the only one we have in common”.

Echoing words Pope Francis has used time and again throughout the pandemic, Zuppi insisted that “no one can save themselves by themselves”.

He added that his hope was that the realisation of our essential interconnectedness as a common humanity “will push us to seek greater internal solidarity within and between countries, because that is the only means of escape” from the COVID-19 crisis.

– Christians “can never get used to seeing a hungry person”

For his work over decades with the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Church social service organisation, Zuppi has earned a reputation as one of Catholicism’s foremost social justice thinkers and practitioners.

Speaking to Vida Nueva, he explained his and the Church’s option for the poor and the marginalised in society, which he said consists in “going out to meet them, trying to be close to them, looking them in the eye, touching them”.

If Christians don’t meet the vulnerable at eye-level, he said, “they easily become a category and in the end we think that we’re exempt from having a personal relationship with them”.

Followers of Jesus, the cardinal went on, “can never get used to seeing a hungry person; we must always recognise them, and above all never lose our outrage, our ability to cry, our choice to organise concrete responses, that is, solidarity”.

“There is no complicated philosophy to learn but instead compassion, a feeling that Jesus gifts us”, Zuppi explained.

That option of the Church for the poor and the vulnerable is especially important in the time of the coronavirus, the Bologna archbishop explained, since COVID-19 “has already caused and is going to cause a great deal more suffering and new poor, aggravating the condition of so many who were in precarious situations and in conditions of instability, and throwing part of the middle class into misery”.

“This calls for immediate responses and also the determination to rebuild by seeking justice and equality, because the economic system that generates or accepts so much poverty must also be changed”, Zuppi affirmed.

As an example of a response that could be adopted immediately to palliate COVID-19-related suffering, the cardinal offered the Pope’s proposal of a universal basic wage.

“People and peoples… must be at the centre” of the economy and politics, Zuppi insisted, explaining that the Pope’s call for immediate economic relief for the most vulnerable “requires those in positions of responsibility to have a vision, the courage to build a future so that there is no temptation to go back… [and to] set out from this adversity to build a better future and to fix what’s not going well” in the world.

– Europe needs to regain its “courage”

Referring to the slogan that has gained currency in Europe and beyond in recent weeks – that the coronavirus recovery must be comparable to rebuild efforts after World War II – Zuppi said that more important than the rhetoric is the need “to understand what needs to be changed” in the world, and “not to repeat the same mistakes, to realise the weaknesses [and] the contradictions” in the system.

Blind spots in society, in other words, like the way the world treats the homeless or the elderly, who have during COVID-19 suffered “a veritable massacre that must lead to a review of social and health policies”, Zuppi urged.

Another of the world’s “weaknesses” that needs to be addressed post-COVID-19, according to Zuppi, is the space that has permitted the resurgence of populisms, which the cardinal said he feared could “lead to fear and ignorance, making people believe in answers that are not such and causing a setback”, particularly in Europe.

Europe, he said, “needs to choose to regain its intuition and its initial courage” that led to the construction of a united continent in the face of the “miserable nationalisms” of the past century.

In that dream of a united Europe, “there much of the Christian and evangelical vision, in which the whole is superior to the part”, Zuppi affirmed.

More on Novena on the consequences of COVID-19 for the economy:

Liberation theologian Boff: “Capitalism is only good for the rich; for the rest it is hell and for nature, a war”

President of Pontifical Academy for Life: “The virus of individualism and loneliness radically weakened society before COVID-19”

Non-violence activist: “What can we really hope from a society that is poisoned by its most important value: money?”

Priests in option for the poor propose tax on rich to combat “virus of injustice”

Catholic group urges EU to use coronavirus to “fast-forward the transition to a just, sustainable future”


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