The pandemic has highlighted how vulnerable and interconnected everyone is and it is the vulnerable who make the world safe for humanity, once they are listened to and not ignored.
While the pandemic does not distinguish between people, it has highlighted great social inequalities, discrimination and environmental degradation, which go together and are exacerbated by the forces of inhumanity that continue to remain profitable and to maintain their power through control of the digital media. Francis bishop of Rome, said recently, that economics should be an expression of “care and concern that refuses to sacrifice human dignity to the idols of finance.” In Laudato Si, he said “When media and digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously.” But this is not to deny that the digital world does not provide an extraordinary opportunity for dialogue, encounter and exchange between persons as well as access to information and knowledge. In this context, today’s prophets risk being unheard amid the noise and distraction of an information overload.
According to Laudato Si, (107-108) we have to accept that technological products are not neutral for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups. Decisions which may seem purely instrumental are in reality decisions about the kind of society we want to build. It as become countercultural to choose a lifestyle whose goals are even partly independent of technology, of its costs and its power to globalise and make us all the same. Technology tends to absorb everything into its ironclad logic, and those who are surrounded with technology are neither motivated by profit nor the well-being of the human race, but by power – a lordship over all. The technocratic paradigm also tends to dominate economic and political life.
In the coming decades humanity will face a new existential threat of ecological collapse. Humans are destabilising the global biosphere on multiple fronts. We are taking more and more resources out of the environment, while pumping back into it quanties of waste and poison, thereby changing the composition of the soil, the water, and the atmosphere.
The pandemic exposes many truths about humanity and the ways we organise ourselves as societies. The pandemic shows that while humanity is adaptable it is also vulnerable. Another truth, is the painful reality, that the privileged are less at risk than the downtrodden, exposing the plight of the insignificant and the great inequality that reigns in the world community and that individualism in the end, relies on the strength of the community.
It has also uncovered that our common home is in need of healing as well as our fragile human community. Our eyes have been opened to this reality around us, we cannot close them and not see. Having heard the cry of the downtrodden, the vulnerable, we cannot be deaf to their voices or stop listening. We have to allow for a renewal of our minds. The new normal must not entail social injustices, inequality and the degradation of the environment. St Paul exhorts us not to be conformed to this age (Roms 12:1-2).
During the pandemic, the “Black Lives Matter” uncovered, a white nationalism and a mainstream systemic racism.
My experience, as the 2020 pandemic continues, has awakened in me the realisation that, what I do and am, is not regarded as essential. This in turn, emphasises or re-enforces within myself, a sense that there is a great need for a new normal, where I need to re-evaluate myself as a Christian and a missionary disciple of Jesus today. Also where the Church needs to review its vision, mission and ministry. There cannot be a return to what was the old normal, a sacramental model, as if nothing has happened. The 2020 Pandemic is an opportunity, and an awakening to re-evaluate, who I am as a Christian and as a missionary disciple of Jesus, and to what kind of Christian community we are being challenged to create for the future? The 2020 pandemic challenges us to create a different kind of Church having the preferential option for the poor and a drawing close in solidarity, to the excluded as the key criterion of Christian authenticity.
For me, a future Church, of a Christian community of missionary disciples, needs to become more inclusive of the destitute and of those suffering on the periphery, the vulnerable, who have been dehumanised by the economic, political and social systems, structures and policies of the powerful. (Ezekiel 34: 1- 11 This is not referring to priests and prophets but to all civil authorities who enrich themselves at the expense of the downtrodden through incompentence, mismanagement and corruption) The dehumanised of this reality, are like sheep without a shepherd, with no one to listen to them in solidarity, to walk with them on their side of the street, to listen to their dreams, stories, aspirations, hopes, anxieties and joys, and discern with them where they hope to go. The Spirit speaks to us though the hopes, dreams, aspirations of the dehumanised vulnerable.
As Pope Francis says; “solidarity, refers to something more than a few sporadic acts of generosity. It presumes the creation of a new mindset, which thinks in terms of community and the priority of life of all over the appropriation of goods by a few.” To listen to the social inequality of downtrodden means also listening to the silent voice of creation. Listening, values, each others’ story, heals and empowers. That to me, is where the Church needs to be. Listening to the downtrodden and to the voice of our common home, is to be God like. If we do not work for a more humane world, how can we understand the parables of Jesus? The heart of the mission of Jesus, is to bring humanity to the fullness of life.
As Bishop Kevin Dowling of the South African Church said, reflecting his pandemic experience, the Church needs to address the systemic issues in the political fabric of the nation, massive corruption, mismanagement and incompentence. The Church itself needs to reflect on and discern what the signs of the times call us to be and do, what model of Church we need to create and develop. He hopes that this pandemic will bring out the treasures of who we are called to be as disciples of Jesus and to be a field hospital that Pope Francis dreams of. This means building on what we have achieved in the past and to be creative in imagining something new in the future.