“This is the opportunity for conversion, the time to move from misusing nature, the moment to see the poor”, Pope Francis has said on the COVID-19 crisis in a major new interview.
– A special message of the pontiff to the English-speaking world
Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh, fellow in contemporary Church history at Campion Hall at the University of Oxford, sent the pontiff a series of questions in late March on subjects as wide-ranging as the practical and spiritual implications of the coronavirus lockdown in the Vatican to the mission of the Church in the aftermath of the pandemic.
The Pope’s answers to Ivereigh’s questions came a week later, and were published April 8 on the websites of both The Tablet and Commonweal in the interviewer’s own translation from the original Spanish to English.
– Pandemic “putting a spotlight” on political “hypocrisy”
The coronavirus crisis “is affecting us all, rich and poor alike, and putting a spotlight on hypocrisy”, the Pope denounced to Ivereigh.
“I am worried by the hypocrisy of certain political personalities who speak of facing up to the crisis, of the problem of hunger in the world, but who in the meantime manufacture weapons“, Francis continued.
The pontiff underlined that “this is a time to be converted from this kind of functional hypocrisy. It’s a time for integrity. Either we are coherent with our beliefs or we lose everything”.
But the Pope showed himself to be concerned not only with the ‘business as usual’ situation of weapons manufacturers even under COVID-19 restrictions, but also with the rise of populism under the excuse of the coronavirus as well.
Currently in Europe, “when we are beginning to hear populist speeches and witness political decisions” based on selective national myths, “it’s too easy to remember Hitler’s speeches in 1933, which were not so different from some of the speeches of a few European politicians now”, the Pope decried.
– The poor “are not things, not garbage; they are people”
Asked by Ivereigh whether the coronavirus crisis and its associated economic recession could be a chance to undertake an ecological conversion and to develop a more “human” economy, the Pope insisted that “today I believe we have to slow down our rate of production and consumption (Laudato Si’, 191) and to learn to understand and contemplate the natural world”.
“We need to reconnect with our real surroundings. This is the opportunity for conversion”, Francis explained.
“This is the time to take the decisive step, to move from using and misusing nature to contemplating it”, the pontiff continued.
“We have lost the contemplative dimension; we have to get it back at this time”.
Francis affirmed that the time of the coronavirus is “the moment to see the poor”.
“Jesus says we will have the poor with us always, and it’s true. They are a reality we cannot deny. But the poor are hidden, because poverty is bashful”, he explained.
“To discover such a large number of people who are on the margins… And we don’t see them, because poverty is bashful. They are there but we don’t see them: they have become part of the landscape; they are things“, the Pope decried.
“To ‘see’ the poor means to restore their humanity. They are not things, not garbage; they are people.
“We can’t settle for a welfare policy such as we have for rescued animals. We often treat the poor like rescued animals. We can’t settle for a partial welfare policy”, the Pope urged.
– The need for a Church conversion “to the suffering flesh of the poor”
Continuing on with a profound analysis of poverty, especially in COVID-19 times, the Pope urged the Church to “go down into the underground, and pass from the hyper-virtual, fleshless world to the suffering flesh of the poor”.
“This is the conversion we have to undergo. And if we don’t start there, there will be no conversion”, Francis warned.
The pontiff decried that as a society “we disempower the poor”.
“We don’t give them the right to dream of their mothers. They don’t know what affection is; many live on drugs. And to see them can help us to discover the piety, the pietas, which points towards God and towards our neighbour”, the pontiff explained.
“Those who have been impoverished by the crisis are today’s deprived, who are added to the numbers of deprived of all times, men and women whose status is ‘deprived'”, the Pope went on, still sounding the alarm bells over the effect on society’s most vulnerable of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“They have lost everything, or they are going to lose everything.
“What meaning does deprivation have for me, in the light of the Gospel? It means to enter into the world of the deprived, to understand that he who had, no longer has.
In the time of the coronavirus, “what I ask of people is that they take the elderly and the young under their wing, that they take history under the wing, take the deprived under their wing”, the Pope concluded.