Of course, we are still in the times of the Covid-19 pandemic. Covid-19 started as a health care issue, but it has affected drastically the economy, jobs and employment, lifestyles, food, and security issues. For most, this has been a time of re-evaluating how we spend our money, our work, our relationships with family and friends, examining how we spend our time and with whom we spend our time; and so on. When you generally cannot leave your house for months on end, you also take into consideration where you live, how you live and with whom you live in new ways. I recall my elderly granny saying in the late 1960s in Northern Ireland that every day looked very much the same and she had hardly travelled anywhere during her life. It has been like that for me and for us for a year now!
That is not to say that time has stood still. Many say we appreciate the natural world more. We are noticing birds, insects, Spring flowers and the cycles of the seasons as we walk regularly. We are more alert to staff in healthcare and education and in shops and services who have kept society functioning. We now see clearly that some of the most crucial jobs in society are badly paid and the gross inequalities need to be addressed. We know from our network of Caritas agencies in dioceses that around two million people in Britain have struggled to put food on the table during the pandemic. Over the past year in Westminster Diocese, for example, the number of food banks run by parishes and schools has doubled.
Alongside, there has in fact been a huge surge in campaigning – largely online – for justice, peace and ecology because we have a clearer idea of the world we want to return to. We have seen the vast disparity between rich and poor, and between Black and non-Black lives, and between UK spending on the military and on its poorest families. The rich got richer, and the poor poorer during 2020, and this was borne out by a January 2021 report, ‘The Inequality Virus’, from the global anti-poverty movement Oxfam, which highlighted that Covid-19 was increasing inequalities around the world. We have seen our UK government pledge in March to increase its nuclear weapons stockpile despite saying it does not have enough money to give nurses more than a one percent pay rise or increase Universal Credit permanently for the poorest in our society. The Columbans have different priorities, looking to the needs of the most vulnerable in line with Catholic Social Teaching.
Sr Joan Chittister suggested in a talk during Lent that, “Lent is about being honest with ourselves, changing what needs to change in our lives, making our world a better place and growing into the Light.” In the desert, Jesus was tempted to choose an easy life filled with riches and adulation, but he chooses to follow a more difficult path that will remake the world. And Pope Francis has certainly encouraged us to emerge from the pandemic confinement with new commitments to combat climate change, poverty, conflict and racism.
In our recent Columban Schools Competition ‘Let’s create a world without racism’ we could see in the entries that much needs to be done. Many personal testimonies spotlighted how racism isn’t just an academic or theoretical issue, but a lived experience. Let’s listen to our young people who called for more love and commitment to build a more just and inclusive society.
Pope Francis calls us to ‘prepare the future’ now, and not passively ‘prepare for the future’ which is created by others. There are many campaigns to support and three are given here.