The Portuguese Bishops have called for a “globalisation of solidarity” to meet the COVID-19 economic and social crisis they are warning will be and already is “unparalleled in recent history”.

– An unprecedented crisis needs unpredecented togetherness

The Portuguese prelates made the call at the end of a plenary assembly June 15-17 in Fátima, in a statement they described as a “small contribution” to the task now awating the world in the wake of the coronavirus of “rethinking the foundations on which our societies are built, not wasting what is positive about them and correcting their dysfunctions and injustices”.

If the COVID-19 outbreak has been unprecedented, at least in recent history, the crisis following it “can, to a large extent, be tackled, in its most dramatic form, with an also unprecedented increased effort of solidarity”, the Portuguese Bishops urged.

– Renewed awareness of universal brotherhood “cannot fail to have consequences”

Taking as their starting point Pope Francis’ conviction – as he expressed it in his extraordinary Urbi et orbi blessing at the height of the outbreak – that “we are all in the same boat and no one is saved alone”, the Portuguese prelates stressed that “this awareness of universal brotherhood and universal common good is not new, but this pandemic makes us feel it more clearly”.

“This cannot fail to have consequences, culturally, politically, socially and economically”, the Bishops wrote, adding that “the unity and cohesion that we have experienced in many ways in the fight against this pandemic must remain and apply to other areas as well”.

For example, in the fight against unemployment and social exclusion, the Bishops said, “since the pandemic has exposed the danger of keeping people in extreme poverty”, whether they be “the homeless, recent immigrants and asylum seekers” or “the inhabitants of slums that are still unfortunately present in our country”.

“A society that wants to be healthy, just and democratic cannot ‘afford’ to have these pockets of misery at its heart”, the Portuguese Bishops clamoured.

– “This can be an occasion to build a system that places the human person at its centre”

Warning that “unemployment and worsening poverty are expected to reach very high levels” post-COVID – and that “sporadic and occasional help driven by momentary emotions” will not be enough to tackle the economic consequences of the pandemic – the Bishops highlighted that reconstruction must be an occasion to “rethink” our economic system, “to preserve what is good and to correct what is negative and unjust”.

“This can be an occasion to build a system that places the human person at its centre and does not generate the inequalities that the system that governs us has generated”, the prelates emphasised.

The Bishops continued by warning that “an economy driven by the goal of maximising profit does not respond to the demands of the crisis we are going through”.

They added that an occasion to rethink the economic system such as COVID-19 has presented “should also serve to combine [the economy] with the requirements of safeguarding the environment, with particular attention to the energy transition imposed by combating climate change”.

The reconstruction after COVID-19 must also make the most of the opportunity to correct the “evils” of globalisation but without losing sight of that phenomenon’s positive aspects, such as “reduction of absolute poverty” or the “approximation of peoples and cultures”, the Bishops said.

– EU facing “the greatest challenge in its history”

Closer to home, the prelates also warned that with the coronavirus the European Union “is today confronted with what is perhaps the greatest challenge in its history”.

In combating the pandemic and its associated economic and social crisis, the EU “must act as a true community, and not as a mere conglomerate of opposing interests in search of commitments”, the Portuguese Bishops pleaded.

That warning from the Portuguese Bishops as a whole on the need for greater EU solidarity post-COVID was echoed by their new president elected this week in the assembly in Fátima, Bishop José Ornelas of the Setúbal diocese, just out of Lisbon.

In a June 19 interview with the Renascença and Ecclesia news agencies, Ornelas said that Brussels’ ongoing efforts to make sure “nobody is left behind” after the pandemic is a sign of “economic, social and political intelligence”.

“The European Union cannot be only for the most powerful and cannot leave out the most fragile”, Ornelas warned.

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