By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY, (Catholic News Service) – When Pope Francis addresses, via video message, the UN General Assembly September 21, he is expected to speak about using the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to re-think economic, political and environmental policies in a way that will benefit humanity and the Earth.
Since COVID-19 was officially recognized as a pandemic in early March, the Pope has been urging individuals, organizations and governments to recognize the inequalities the pandemic has highlighted in economics and access to health care and education, as well as the ways patterns of production and consumption have damaged the environment.
Pope Francis began a series of general audience talks August 5 about the principles of Catholic social teaching that can help the world recover from the pandemic and move forward in a way that is better for human beings and for the environment.
He spoke about transforming “the roots of our physical, spiritual and social infirmities and the destructive practices that separate us from each other, threatening the human family and our planet.”
During a news conference August 26 in Rieti, Italy, to launch a celebration marking events in the life of St Francis of Assisi, Bishop Domenico Pompili replied to a comment about interreligious co-operation by saying that Pope Francis was preparing a new encyclical on “human fraternity,” a phrase used for a document on interreligious dialogue and co-operation signed in 2019 by Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar.
The Vatican confirmed September 5 that the Pope was writing the encyclical and said he would sign it October 3 in Assisi.
In an interview published August 27, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, was asked what principles of Catholic social teaching could help the global economy recover from the pandemic and its lockdowns.
“The priority is not the economy as such, but the human person,” he said in the interview posted by Riparte L’Italia, the online magazine of an economic and social think tank.
“COVID-19 not only provoked a health crisis but impacted multiple aspects of human life: the family, politics, labour, businesses, commerce, tourism, etc.,” Parolin said. “The broad and interconnected character of the pandemic constantly reminds us of the observation of Pope Francis that ‘everything is connected.’ ”
The cardinal said acceptance of the idea that the economy is not everything is the only explanation for why so many national and local governments ordered lockdowns to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “It shows that the priority isn’t the economy but the person.”
However, he said, for the Catholic Church, it is not enough to be concerned about a person’s physical health. “The integrity of the human person must be cared for,” which means caring for the person’s spiritual, political and economic health as well, he said.
The pandemic revealed “our common weakness, our shared fragility,” he said. “However, instead of fostering co-operation for the universal common good, we see more and more walls rising around us, exalting borders as a guarantee of security and practising systematic violations of the law, maintaining a situation of permanent global conflict.
The pandemic demonstrates that what is needed is “friendship and benevolence rather than hatred and fear,” he said.
When speaking about the economy, he said the two most recent papal social encyclicals are key: Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”) and Pope Francis’ 2015 Laudato Si’.
“Benedict spoke of an economy in which room must be made for the logic of gift, the principle of gratuitousness, which expresses not only solidarity, but even more deeply human fraternity,” the cardinal said. “Francis re-launched the theme of integral human development in the context of an ‘integral ecology,’ one that is environmental, economic, social, cultural, spiritual.
“Today the pandemic is giving a tremendous shock to the entire economic and social system and its supposed certainties at all levels. The problems of unemployment are and will be dramatic; the problems of public health require the revolution of entire health and education systems, and the role of states and relations between nations are changing,” Parolin said.
“The Church feels called to accompany the complicated journey that lies before us all as a human family,” he said. “She must do so with humility and wisdom, but also with creativity.”