For just about all of us, the last 18 months has been a very challenging time. We have all had to make some sacrifices to keep ourselves safe by keeping others safe too. It is fair to say that we are now in a very different place to where we were in March 2021.
The excellent roll out of the vaccination programme across the UK has given us a feeling of being safe for the very first time in almost two years and this summer has brought a feeling of optimism, tempered by the caution of keeping a watch on mutations of the coronavirus that may well render our present vaccines less effective.
Nevertheless, there seems to be a feeling among people that we can’t go on like this for ever and there is an increasing recognitionthat we aregoing to have to learn to live with the virus being present in the world. So, we’re always going to have to live with a degree of caution. Humans have had to do this before during other pandemics that have swept the world in years gone by, and in many developing countries this is still the case today. Think, for example, of how Ebola has affected many parts of Africa.
All this need not be a bad thing. The pandemic has brought us to a kind of crossroads at which being able to deal with the virus effectively means we really do have to look after the welfare of others as a way to keep ourselves safe. We have the added issues of climate change, environmental pollution and the impact humans are having on our Mother Earth through the way we live our lives as part of a “throwaway culture”. This is a time for us as the human family, as Christians and people of faith, to take stock of what is really important to us as we seek to chart our way out of this pandemic.
In his recent book Let Us Dream, Pope Francis speaks to us: “Think of what we’ve seen during this Covid-19 crisis. All those martyrs: men and women who have laid down their lives in service to those most in need. Think of the health workers, the doctors and nurses and other caregivers, as well as the chaplains and all who chose to accompany others in their pain. Taking the necessary precautions, they sought to offer others support and consolation. They were witnesses to closeness and tenderness. Many, tragically, died. To honour their witness, and the suffering of so many, we have to build tomorrow by following the paths they have lit for us …If we are to come out of this crisis less selfish than we went in, we have to let ourselves be touched by others’ pain…This is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities- what we value, what we want, what we seek – and to commit to act in our daily life on what we have dreamed of…God asks us to dare to create something new. We cannot return to the false securities of the political and economic systems we had before the crisis. We need economies that give all access to the fruits of creation, to the basic needs of life: to land, lodging, and labour. We need a politics that can integrate and dialogue with the poor, the excluded, and the vulnerable, that gives people a say in the decisions that impact their lives. We need to slow down, take stock, and design better ways of living together on this earth” (pp 1-2, 5-6)
The Holy Father places before us his ideas to help us as Church and as local, national and international communities to chart a course out of the pandemic by putting people before profit, service before selfishness, kindness and helpfulness before our own ambitions and peace before conflict. These are all Gospel values which were spoken of time and again by Jesus throughout his ministry, by his apostles and the prophets of the Old Testament. In fact, we have at our fingertips all the instructions we need to help us to reshape our world for the better. It’s worth going back to the very beginning of Genesis.
It’s also a time to rethink our vision of what it means to be Christian or a member of a faith community in our world of today. Many members of faith communities have really come into their own during Covid. They have made sure those who have had to shield themselves or self-isolate have had the food and provisions they needed, they have set up food banks, visiting rotas and priests have live-streamed Masses and other liturgical events. We have used social media to our advantage, helping keep a sense of community and connectedness, always seeking to operate within the Covid restrictions. It always seems that in times of adversity, people step up to the mark. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things we could have done better, or more of, or that we have been unable to do. Many members of our communities have lost loved one, their jobs, their homes, others are still suffering with the effects of having had Covid and now suffer with long Covid, poverty at home and abroad has increased. All this changes what we need to enable us to re-envision, re-evaluate and reshape our world going forward.
I’m using this article to ask you to think, to dream about the kind of world you want to live in. What’s your vision for the Church as we plan to move forward? Already, some are saying they can’t wait to get back to how things were before the pandemic struck. Is that really an option, or even desirable? Pope Francis is encouraging us all to get involved, to play our part, to make our voices heard in reshaping our world: “It’s a task for all of us, to which each one of us is invited. But it’s a time especially for the restless of heart, that healthy restlessness that spurs us into action. Now more than ever, what is revealed is the fallacy of making individualism the organising principle of society…We need a movement of people who know we need each other, who have a sense of responsibility to others and to the world. We need to proclaim that being kind, having faith, and working for the common good are great life goals that need courage and vigour” (p6).
What do we need to make all this happen? We are not on our own! God is with us in our struggles. Jesus understands our slowness and hesitancy in acting. The Holy Spirit urges us to be bold in making God’s Kingdom a reality in our world. With the help of the Holy Trinity, we are to dare to be different. To dare to dream!
As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, we will begin to reshape a “new normal” way of life. We will begin once again to take up our vocation to be missionary disciples and communities who focus on making our world a gentler and kinder place to live. We will take up our diocesan adult formation programme and explore ways of being a people of the Kingdom of God. We will reinstate our RCIA programmes, our inspiration days for Ministers of the Word and Holy Communion. This September, through to March 2022, we will host a series of online adult formation sessions. We will get involved in Pope Francis’ proposed Synod process, which will begin in October. In terms of the environment and climate change, there is the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, launched in Rome by Cardinal Turkson, which can help us in tackling climate change and environmental degradation. We will aim to restart Bishop Terry’s initiative to develop Missionary Disciples, Missionary Communities and become a Missionary Diocese. There’s much for us to be optimistic about.
David Cross, Adult Formation Coordinator