The Holy See

HUMANA COMMUNITAS IN THE AGE OF PANDEMIC: UNTIMELY MEDITATIONS ON LIFE’S REBIRTH

PONTIFICAL ACADEMY FOR LIFE

HUMANA COMMUNITAS IN THE AGE OF PANDEMIC:
UNTIMELY MEDITATIONS ON LIFE’S REBIRTH

 

Covid-19 has brought desolation to the world. We have lived it for so long, now, and it is not over yet. It might not be for a very long time. What to make of it? Surely, we are summoned to the courage of resistance. The search for a vaccine and for a thorough scientific explanation of what triggered the catastrophe speak to it. Are we summoned to deeper mindfulness also? If so, how will our pausing keep us from falling into the inertia of complacency, or worse, connivance in resignation? Is there a thoughtful “stepping back” that is other to inaction, a thinking that might mutate into thanking for life given, thus a passageway to life’s rebirth?

Covid-19 is the name of a global crisis (pan-demic) with different facets and manifestations, for sure, yet a common reality. We have come to realize, like never before, that this strange predicament, long-since predicted, yet never seriously addressed, has brought us all together. Like so many processes in our contemporary world, Covid-19 is the most recent manifestation of globalization. From a purely empirical perspective, globalization has effected many benefits to humankind: it has disseminated scientific knowledge, medical technologies, and health practices, all potentially available for everyone’s benefit. At the same time, with Covid-19, we have found ourselves differently linked, sharing in a common experience of contingency (cum-tangere): sparing no one, the pandemic has made us all equally vulnerable, all equally exposed (cfr. Pontifical Academy for Life, Global pandemic and universal brotherhood, March 30, 2020).

Such a realization has come at a high cost. What lessons have we learned? More, what conversion of thought and action are we prepared to undergo in our common responsibility for the human family (Francis, Humana Communitas, January 6, 2019)?

The Hard Reality of Lessons Learned

The pandemic has given us the spectacle of empty streets and ghostly cities, of human proximity wounded, of physical distancing. It has deprived us of the exuberance of embraces, the kindness of hand shakings, the affection of kisses, and turned relations into fearful interactions among strangers, the neutral exchange of faceless individualities shrouded in the anonymity of protective gears. Limitations of social contacts are frightening; they can lead to situations of isolation, despair, anger, and abuse. For elderly people in the last stages of life the suffering has been even more pronounced, for the physical distress is coupled by diminished quality of life and lack of visiting family and friends.

1.1. Life Taken, Life Given: the Lesson of Fragility

The prevailing metaphors now encroaching on our ordinary language emphasize hostility and a pervasive sense of menace: the repeated encouragements to “fight” the virus, the press releases that sound like “bulletins of war,” the daily updates on the number of infected, soon turning into “fallen victims.”

In the suffering and death of so many, we have learned the lesson of fragility. In many countries, hospitals still struggle with overwhelming demands, facing the agony of resource rationing and the exhaustion of health care personnel. Immense, unspeakable misery, and the struggle for basic survival needs, has brought into evidence the condition of prisoners, those living in extreme poverty at the margins of society, especially in developing countries, the abandoned destined to oblivion in refugee camps from hell.

We have witnessed the most tragic face of death: some experiencing the loneliness of separation both physical and spiritual from everybody, leaving their families powerless, unable to say goodbye, even to provide the basic piety of proper burial. We have seen life coming to its end, without heed for age, social status, or health conditions.

But “frail” is what we all are: radically marked by the experience of finitude at the core of our existence, not just occasionally there, visiting us with the gentle touch of a passing presence, leaving us undeterred in the confidence that everything will go according to plan. We emerge from a night of mysterious origins: called into being beyond choice, we come soon to presumption and complaint, asserting as ours what we have only been vouchsafed. Too late do we learn consent to the darkness from which we came, and to which we finally return.

Some say this is all a tale of absurdity, for it all comes to nothing. But how could this nothing-ness be the final word? If so, why the fighting? Why do we encourage each other to the hope of better days, when all that we are experiencing in this pandemic will be over?

Life comes and goes, says the custodian of cynical prudence. Yet its rising and ebbing, now made more evident by the fragility of our human condition, might open us to a different wisdom, a different realization (cfr Ps. 8). For the sorrowful evidence of life’s frailty may also renew our mindfulness of its given nature. Coming back to life, after savoring the ambivalent fruit of its contingency, will we not be wiser? Will we not be more grateful, less arrogant?

1.2. The Impossible Dream of Autonomy and the Lesson of Finitude

With the pandemic, our claims to autonomous self-determination and control have come to a sobering halt, a moment of crisis that elicits deeper discernment. It had to happen, sooner or later, for the bewitchment had lasted long enough.

The Covid-19 epidemic has much to do with our depredation of the earth and the despoiling of its intrinsic value. It is a symptom of our earth’s malaise and our failure to care; more, a sign of our own spiritual malaise (Laudato Si’, n. 119). Will we be able to remedy the fracture that has separated us from our natural world, too often turning our assertive subjectivities into a menace to creation, a menace to one another?

Consider the chain of connections that link the following phenomena: increasing deforestation pushes wild animals in the proximity of human habitat. Viruses hosted by animals, then, are passed on to humans, thus exacerbating the reality of zoonosis, a phenomenon well known to scientists as a vehicle of many diseases. The exaggerated demand for meat in first world countries gives rise to enormous industrial complexes of animal farming and exploitation. It is easy to see how these interactions might ultimately occasion the spread of a virus through international transportation, mass mobility of people, business travelling, tourism, etc.

The phenomenon of Covid-19 is not just the result of natural occurrences. What happens in nature is already the result of a complex intermediation with the human world of economical choices and models of development, themselves “infected” with a different “virus” of our own creation: it is the result, more than the cause, of financial greed, the self-indulgence of life styles defined by consumption indulgence and excess. We have built for ourselves an ethos of prevarication and disregard for what is given to us, in the elemental promise of creation. This is why we are called to reconsider our relation to the natural habitat. To recognize that we dwell on this earth as stewards, not as masters and lords.

We have been given everything, but ours is only an endowed, not an absolute, sovereignty. Mindful of its origin, it carries the burden of finitude and the mark of vulnerability. Our condition is a wounded freedom. We might reject it as a curse, a provisional situation to be soon overcome. Or we can learn a different patience: capable of consent to finitude, of renewed porosity to neighborly proximity and distant otherness.

When compared to the predicament of poor countries, especially in the so called Global South, the plight of the “developed” world looks more like a luxury: only in rich countries people can afford the requirements of safety. In those not so fortunate, on the other hand, “physical distancing” is just an impossibility due to necessity and the weight of dire circumstances: crowded settings and the lack of affordable distancing confront entire populations as an insurmountable fact. The contrast between the two situations throws into relief a strident paradox, recounting, once more, the tale of disproportion in wealth between poor and rich countries.

To learn finitude and to consent to the limits of our own freedom is more than a sober exercise in philosophical realism. It entails opening our eyes to the reality of human beings who experience such limits in their own flesh, so to speak: in the daily challenge to survive, to secure minimal conditions for subsistence, to feed children and family members, to overcome the threat of diseases in spite of the availability of cures too expensive to afford. Consider the immense loss of life in the Global South: malaria, tuberculosis, lack of drinkable water and basic resources still sow the destruction of millions of lives per year, a situation that has been known for decades. All these predicaments could be overcome by committed international efforts and policies. How many lives could be saved, how many diseases eradicated, how much suffering avoided!

1.3. The challenge of interdependence and the lesson of common vulnerability

Our pretentions to monadic solitude have feet of clay. With them, there crumbles the false hopes for an atomistic social philosophy built on egoistic suspicion toward what is different and new, an ethics of calculative rationality bent toward a distorted image of self-fulfillment, impervious to the responsibility of the common good on a global, and not only national, scale.

Our interconnectedness is a matter of fact. It makes us all strong or, conversely, vulnerable, depending on our own attitude toward it. Consider its relevance at a national level, to begin. While Covid-19 may affect everyone, it is especially harmful for particular populations, such as the elderly, or people with associated diseases and compromised immune systems. Policy measures are taken for all citizens equally. They ask for the solidarity of the young and healthy with those most vulnerable. They ask for sacrifices from many people who depend on public interaction and economic activity for their living. In richer countries these sacrifices can be temporarily compensated, but in the majority of countries such protective policies are simply impossible.

For sure, in all countries the common good of public health needs to be balanced against economic interests. During the early stages of the pandemic, most countries focused on maximally saving lives. Hospitals and especially intensive care services, were insufficient, and were only expanded after enormous struggles. Remarkably, care services survived because of impressive sacrifices of doctors, nurses, and other care professionals, more than technological investment. The focus on hospital care, however, diverted attention from other care institutions. Nursing homes, for an example, were severely affected by the pandemic, and sufficient protective equipment and testing only became available in a late stage. Ethical discussions of resource allocation were primarily based on utilitarian considerations, without paying attention to people experiencing higher risk and greater vulnerabilities. In most countries, the role of general practitioners was ignored, while for many people they are the first contact in the care system. The result has been an increase in deaths and disabilities from causes other than Covid-19.

Common vulnerability calls for international cooperation as well, and the realization that a pandemic cannot be withstood without adequate medical infrastructure, accessible to everyone at the global level. Nor can the plight of a people, suddenly infected, be dealt with in isolation, without forging international agreements, and with a multitude of different stakeholders. The sharing of information, the provision of help, the allocation of scarce resources, will all have to be addressed in a synergy of efforts. The strength of the international chain is given by the weakest link.

The lesson awaits deeper assimilation. For sure, the seeds of hope have been sown in the obscurity of small gestures, in acts of solidarity too many to count, too precious to broadcast. Communities have struggled honorably, in spite of everything, sometimes against the ineptitude of their political leadership, to articulate ethical protocols, forge normative systems, re-imagining lives on ideals of solidarity and reciprocal solicitude. The unanimous appreciations for these examples shows a deepest understanding of the authentic meaning of life and a desirable way of self-fulfillment.

Still, we have not payed sufficient attention, especially at the global level, to human interdependence and common vulnerability. While the virus does not recognize borders, countries have sealed their frontiers. In contrast to other disasters, the pandemic does not impact all countries at the same time. Although this might offer the opportunity to learn from experiences and policies of other countries, learning processes at the global level were minimal. In fact, some countries have sometimes engaged in a cynical game of reciprocal blame.

The same lack of interconnectedness can be observed in efforts to develop remedies and vaccines. Absence of coordination and cooperation is now increasingly recognized as an obstacle to address Covid-19. The awareness that we are in this disaster together, and that we can only overcome it through cooperative efforts of the human community as a whole, is stimulating shared endeavors. The articulation of cross-border scientific projects is an effort going in that direction. It should also be demonstrated in policies, through strengthening of international institutions. This is particularly important since the pandemic is enhancing already existing inequalities and injustices, and many countries lacking the resources and facilities to adequately cope with Covid-19 are dependent on the international community for assistance.

  1. Toward a New Vision: Life’s Rebirth and the Call for Conversion

The lessons of fragility, finitude, and vulnerability bring us to the threshold of a new vision: they foster an ethos of life that calls for the engagement of intelligence and the courage of moral conversion. To learn a lesson is to become humble; it means to change, searching for resources of meaning hitherto untapped, perhaps disavowed. To learn a lesson is to become mindful, once more, of the goodness of life that offers itself to us, releasing an energy that runs even deeper than the unavoidable experience of loss, that need to be elaborated and integrated in the meaning of our existence. Can this occasion be the promise of a new beginning for the humana communitas, the promise of life’s rebirth? If so, under what conditions?

2.1. Toward an Ethics of Risk

We must come, first, to a renewed appreciation of the existential reality of risk: all of us may succumb to the wounds of disease, the killing of wars, the overwhelming threats of disasters. In light of this, there emerge very specific ethical and political responsibilities toward the vulnerability of individuals who are at greater risk for their health, their life, their dignity. Covid-19 might be seen, at first glance, as only a natural, if certainly unprecedented, determinant of global risk. The pandemic, however, forces us to look at a number of additional factors, all of which involve a multifaceted ethical challenge. In this context, decisions must be proportionate to the risks, according to the precaution principle. To focus on the natural genesis of the pandemic, without heed to the economic, social, and political inequalities among countries in the world, is to miss the point about the conditions that make its spread faster and more difficult to address. A disaster, whatever its origin, is an ethical challenge because it is a catastrophe that impacts human life, and harms human existence in multiple dimensions.

In the absence of a vaccine, we cannot count on the ability to permanently defeat the virus that caused the pandemic, except for a spontaneous exhaustion of the pathological strength of the disease. Immunity against Covid-19, therefore, remains something of a hope for the future. This also means recognizing that to live in a community at risk calls for an ethics on a par with the prospect that such a predicament might actually become a reality.

At the same time, we need to flesh out a concept of solidarity that extends beyond generic commitment to helping those who are suffering. A pandemic urges all of us to address and reshape structural dimensions of our global community that are oppressive and unjust, those that a faith understanding refers to as “structures of sin”. The common good of the humana communitas cannot be had without a real conversion of minds and hearts (Laudato si’, 217-221). A call for conversion is addressed to our responsibility: its shortsightedness is imputable to our unwillingness to look the vulnerability of weakest populations at a global level, not to our inability to see what is so obviously plain. A different openness can expand the horizon of our moral imagination, to finally include what has been blatantly passed over in silence.

2.2. The Call for Global Efforts and International Cooperation

The basic contours of an ethics of risk, grounded in a broader concept of solidarity, entail a definition of community that rejects any provincialism, the false distinction between insiders, i.e., those who can exhibit a claim to fully belonging to the community, and outsiders, i.e., those that can hope, at best, in a putative participation to it. The dark side of such separation must be thrown into relief as a conceptual impossibility and a discriminatory practice. No one can be seen as simply standing “in waiting” for full status recognition, as if at the doors of the humana communitas. Access to quality health care and to essential medicines must be effectively recognized as a universal human right (cfr. Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, art. 14). Two conclusions follow logically in the wake of such premise.

The first concerns universal access to the best preventive, diagnostic, and treatment opportunities, beyond their restriction to a few. The distribution of a vaccine, once available in the future, is a point in case. The only acceptable goal, consistent with a just allocation of the vaccine, is access for all without exceptions.

The second conclusion touches upon the definition of responsible scientific research. The stakes here are very high and the issues complex. Three are worth highlighting. First, with respect to the integrity of science and the notions that drive its advancement: the ideal of controlled, if not entirely “detached,” objectivity; and the ideal of freedom of investigation, especially freedom from conflicts of interests. Secondly, at stake is the very nature of scientific knowledge as social practice, defined, in a democratic context, by rules of equality, liberty, and fairness. In particular, scientific freedom of inquiry should not subsume policy decision making under its sphere of influence. Policy decision making and the realm of politics as a whole maintain their autonomy from the encroachment of scientific power, especially when the latter turns into manipulation of public opinion. Finally, what is in question here is the essentially “fiduciary” character of scientific knowledge in its pursuit of socially beneficial results, especially when knowledge is gained through experimentation on human subjects and the promise of treatment tested in clinical trials. The good of society and the demands of common good in the area of health care come before any concern for profit. And this because the public dimensions of research cannot be sacrificed on the altar of private gain. When life and the well-being of a community are at stake, profit must take the back seat.

Solidarity extends also to any efforts in international cooperation. In this context, a privileged place belongs to the World Health Organization (WHO). Deeply rooted in its mission to lead international health work is the notion that only the commitment of governments in a global synergy can protect, foster, and make effective a universal right to the highest attainable standard of health. This crisis emphasizes how much is needed an international organization with a global outreach, including specifically the needs and concerns of less developed countries coping with an unprecedented catastrophe.

The narrow mindedness of national self-interests has led many countries to vindicate for themselves a policy of independence and isolation from the rest of the world, as if a pandemic could be faced without a coordinated global strategy. Such an attitude might pay lip service to the idea of subsidiarity, and the importance of a strategic intervention based on the claim of a lower authority taking precedence over any higher one, more distant from the local situation. Subsidiarity must respect the legitimate sphere of autonomy of the communities, empowering their capabilities and responsibility. In reality, the attitude in question feeds into a logic of separation that is, to begin, less effective against Covid-19. The disadvantage, furthermore, is not only de facto short sighted; it also results in the widening of inequalities and the exacerbation of resource imbalances among different countries. Though all, rich and poor, are vulnerable to the virus, the latter are bound to pay the highest price, and to bear the long term consequences of lack of cooperation. It is clear that the pandemic is worsening the inequalities that already are associated with processes of globalization, making more people vulnerable and marginalized without health care, employment, and social safety nets.

2.3. Ethical Balancing Centred on the Principle of Solidarity

Ultimately, the moral, and not just strategic, meaning of solidarity is the real issue in the current predicament faced by the human family. Solidarity entails responsibility toward the other in need, itself grounded in the recognition that, as a human subject endowed with dignity, every person is an end in itself, not a mean. The articulation of solidarity as a principle of social ethics rests on the concrete reality of a personal presence in need, crying for recognition. Thus, the response required of us is not just a reaction based on sentimental notions of sympathy; it is the only adequate response to the dignity of the other summoning our attention, an ethical disposition premised on the rational apprehension of the intrinsic value of every human being.

As a duty, solidarity does not come for free, without cost and the readiness of the rich countries to pay the price required by the call for the survival of the poor and the sustainability of the entire planet. This holds true both synchronically, with respect to the different sectors of the economy, and diachronically, that is, in relation to our responsibility for the well-being of future generations and the gauging of available resources.

Everyone is called to do their part. To mitigate the consequences of the crisis entails giving up on the notion that “help will come from the government”, as if from a deus ex machina that leaves all responsible citizens out of the equation, untouched in their pursuit of personal interests. The transparency of policy and political strategies, together with the integrity of democratic processes, call for a different approach. The possibility of a catastrophic shortage of resources for medical care (protective materials, test kits, ventilation and intensive care in the case of Covid-19), might be used as an example. In the face of tragic dilemmas, general criteria for intervention, based on fairness in the distribution of resources, the respect for the dignity of every person, and the special solicitude for the vulnerable, must be outlined in advance and articulated in their rational plausibility with as much care as possible.

The ability and willingness to balance principles that could compete with each other is another essential pillar of an ethics of risk and solidarity. Of course, the first duty is to protect life and health. Although a zero-risk situation remains an impossibility, to respect physical distancing and to slow down, if not entirely stop, certain activities have produced dramatic and lasting effects on the economy. The toll on private and social life will have to be taken into account as well.

Two crucial issues come into place. The first refers to the threshold of acceptable risk, whose enforcement cannot produce discriminatory effects with respect to conditions of power and wealth. Basic protection and the availability of diagnostic means must be offered to everyone, according to a principle of non-discrimination.

The second, decisive clarification concerns the concept of “solidarity in risk.” The adoption of specific rules by a community requires attentiveness to the evolution of the situation on the field, a task that can be carried out only through a discernment grounded in ethical sensibility, not just in obedience to the letter of the law. A responsible community is one in which burdens of caution and reciprocal support are shared proactively with an eye to the well-being of all. Legal solutions to conflicts in the assignment of culpability and blame for wilful misconduct or negligence are sometimes necessary as a tool for justice. However, they cannot substitute trust as the substance of human interaction. Only the latter will guide us through the crisis, for only on the basis of trust can the humana communitas finally flourish.

We are called to an attitude of hope, beyond the paralyzing effect of two opposite temptations: on the one hand, the resignation that passively undergoes events; on the other, the nostalgia for a return to the past, only longing for what was there before. Instead, it is time to imagine and implement a project of human coexistence that allows a better future for each and every one. The dream recently envisaged for the Amazon region might become a universal dream, a dream for the whole planet to “integrate and promote all its inhabitants, enabling them to enjoy ‘good living’” (Querida Amazonia, 8).

Vatican City, July 22, 2020

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_academies/acdlife/documents/rc_pont-acd_life_doc_20200722_humanacomunitas-erapandemia_en.html

Benedict XVI’s letter marking St. John Paul II’s birth centenary. 15.05.2020

.- Here is the full text of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI’s letter marking the centenary of the birth of St. John Paul IIThe English translation of this letter, dated May 4, was released May 15 by the Polish bishops’ conference:

100 years ago, on May 18th, Pope John Paul II was born in the small Polish town of Wadowice.

After having been divided for over 100 years by three neighboring major powers of Prussia, Russia, and Austria, Poland regained Her independence at the end of the First World War. It was a historic event that gave birth to great hope; but it also demanded much hardship as the new State, in the process of Her reorganization, continued to feel the pressure of the two Powers of Germany and Russia. In this situation of oppression, but above all in this situation marked by hope, young Karol Wojtyła grew up. He lost his mother and his brother quite early and, in the end, his father as well, from whom he gained deep and warm piety. The young Karol was particularly drawn by literature and theater. After passing his final secondary school exam, he chose to study these subjects.

“In order to avoid the deportation, in the fall of 1940 he went to work in a quarry of the Solvay chemical plant.” (cf. Gift and Mystery). “In the fall of 1942, he made the final decision to enter the Seminary of Kraków, which Kraków’s Archbishop Sapieha had secretly established in his residence. As a factory worker, Karol already started studying theology in old textbooks; and so, on 1 November 1946, he could be ordained a priest.” (cf. Ibid.) Of course, Karol not only studied theology in books but also through his experience of the difficult situation that he and his Country found itself in. This is somewhat a characteristic of his whole life and work. He studied books but the questions that they posed became the reality that he profoundly experienced and lived. As a young Bishop – as an Auxiliary Bishop since 1958 and then Archbishop of Kraków from 1964 – the Second Vatican Council became the school of his entire life and work. The important questions that appeared, especially in connection with the so-called Schema 13 which would subsequently become the Constitution Gaudium et Spes, were questions that were also his own. The answers developed by the Council would pave the way for his mission  as Bishop and, later, as Pope.

When Cardinal Wojtyła was elected Successor of St. Peter on 16 October 1978, the Church was in a dramatic situation. The deliberations of the Council had been presented to the public as a dispute over the Faith itself, which seemed to deprive the Council of its infallible and unwavering sureness. A Bavarian parish priest, for example, commented on the situation by saying, “In the end, we fell into the wrong faith.” This feeling that nothing was no longer certain, that everything was questioned, was kindled even more by the method of implementation of liturgical reform. In the end, it almost seemed that the liturgy could be created of itself. Paul VI brought the Council to an end with energy and determination, but after its conclusion, he faced ever more pressing problems that ultimately questioned the existence of the Church Herself. At that time, sociologists compared the Church’s situation to the situation of the Soviet Union under the rule of Gorbachev, during which the powerful structure of the Soviet State collapsed under the process of its reform.

Therefore, in essence, an almost impossible task was awaiting the new Pope. Yet, from the first moment on, John Paul II aroused new enthusiasm for Christ and his Church. His words from the sermon at the inauguration of his pontificate: “Do not be afraid! Open, open wide the doors for Christ!” This call and tone would characterize his entire pontificate and made him a liberating restorer of the Church. This was conditioned by the fact that the new Pope came from a country where the Council’s reception had been positive: one of a joyful renewal of everything rather than an attitude of doubt and uncertainty in all.

The Pope traveled the world, having made 104 pastoral voyages, proclaiming the Gospel wherever he went as a message of joy, explaining in this way the obligation to defend what is Good and to be for Christ.

In his 14 Encyclicals, he comprehensively presented the faith of the Church and its teaching in a human way. By doing this, he inevitably sparked contradiction in Church of the West, clouded by doubt and uncertainty.

It seems important today to define the true centre, from the perspective of which we can read the message contained in the various texts. We could have noticed it at the hour of his death. Pope John Paul II died in the first moments of the newly established Feast of Divine Mercy. Let me first add a brief personal remark that seems an important aspect of the Pope’s nature and work. From the very beginning, John Paul II was deeply touched by the message of Faustina Kowalska, a nun from Kraków, who emphasized Divine Mercy as an essential center of the Christian faith. She had hoped for the establishment of such a feast day. After consultation, the Pope chose the Second Sunday of Easter. However, before the final decision was made, he asked the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to express its view on the appropriateness of this date. We responded negatively because such an ancient, traditional and meaningful date like the Sunday “in Albis” concluding the Octave of Easter should not be burdened with modern ideas. It was certainly not easy for the Holy Father to accept our reply. Yet, he did so with great humility and accepted our negative response a second time. Finally, he formulated a proposal that left the Second Sunday of Easter in its historical form but included Divine Mercy in its original message. There have often been similar cases in which I was impressed by the humility of this great Pope, who abandoned ideas he cherished because he could not find the approval of the official organs that must be asked according established norms.

When John Paul II took his last breaths on this world, the prayer of the First Vespers of the Feast of Divine Mercy had just ended. This illuminated the hour of his death: the light of God’s mercy stands as a comforting message over his death. In his last book Memory and Identity, which was published on the eve of his death, the Pope once again summarized the message of Divine Mercy. He pointed out that Sister Faustina died before the horrors of the Second World War but already gave the Lord’s answer to all this unbearable strife. It was as if Christ wanted to say through Faustina: “Evil will not get the final victory. The mystery of Easter affirms that good will ultimately be victorious, that life will triumph over death, and that love will overcome hatred”.

Throughout his life, the Pope sought to subjectively appropriate the objective center of Christian faith, the doctrine of salvation, and to help others to make it theirs. Through the resurrected Christ, God’s mercy is intended for every individual. Although this center of Christian existence is given to us only in faith, it is also philosophically significant, because if God’s mercy were not a fact, then we would have to find our way in a world where the ultimate power of good against evil is not recognizable. It is finally, beyond this objective historical significance, indispensable for everyone to know that in the end God’s mercy is stronger than our weakness. Moreover, at this point, the inner unity of the message of John Paul II and the basic intentions of Pope Francis can also be found: John Paul II is not the moral rigorist as some have partially portrayed him. With the centrality of divine mercy, he gives us the opportunity to accept moral requirement for man, even if we can never fully meet it. Besides, our moral endeavors are made in the light of divine mercy, which proves to be a force that heals for our weakness.

While Pope John Paul II was dying, St. Peter’s Square was filled with people, especially many young people, who wanted to meet their Pope one last time. I cannot forget the moment when Archbishop Sandri announced the message of the Pope’s departure. Above all, the moment when the great bell of St. Peter’s took up this message remains unforgettable. On the day of his funeral, there were many posters with the words “Santo subito!” It was a cry that rose from the encounter with John Paul II from all sides. Not from the square but also in different intellectual circles the idea of giving John Paul II the title “the Great” was discussed.

The word “saint” indicates God’s sphere and the word “great” the human dimension. According to the Church’s standards, sanctity can be recognized by two criteria: heroic virtues and a miracle. These two standards are closely related. Since the word “heroic virtue” does not mean a kind of Olympic achievement but rather that something becomes visible in and through a person that is not his own but God’s work which becomes recognizable in and through him. This is not a kind of moral competition, but the result of renouncing one’s own greatness. The point is that a person lets God work on him, and so God’s work and power become visible through him.

The same applies to the criterion of the miracle: here too, what counts is not that something sensational happening but the visible revelation of God’s healing goodness, which transcends all merely human possibilities. A saint is the man who is open to God and permeated by God. A holy man is the one who leads away from himself and lets us see and recognize God. Checking this juridically, as far as possible, is the purpose of the two processes for beatification and canonization. In the case of John Paul II, both were carried out strictly according to the applicable rules. So, now he stands before us as the Father, who makes God’s mercy and kindness visible to us.

It is more difficult to correctly define the term “great.” In the course of the almost 2,000-year long history of the papacy, the title “the Great” has been maintained only for two popes: Leo I (440 – 461) and Gregory I (590 – 604). In the case of both, the word “great” has a political connotation, but precisely because something of the mystery of God himself becomes visible through their political success. Through dialog, Leo the Great was able to convince Attila, the Prince of Huns, to spare Rome – the city of the Apostolic Princes Peter and Paul. Without weapons, without military or political power, through the power of his conviction for his faith, he was able to convince the feared tyrant to spare Rome. In the struggle between the spirit and power, the spirit proved stronger.

Gregory I’s success was not as spectacular, but he was repeatedly able to protect Rome against the Lombard – here too, by opposing the spirit against power and winning the victory of the spirit.

If we compare both stories with that of John Paul II, the similarity is unmistakable. John Paul II also had no military or political power. During the discussion about the future shape of Europe and Germany in February 1945, it was said that the Pope’s reaction should also be taken into account. Stalin then asked: “How many divisions does the Pope have?” Well, he had no available division. However, the power of faith turned out to be a force that finally unhinged the Soviet power system in 1989 and made a new beginning possible. Undisputedly, the Pope’s faith was an essential element in the collapse of the powers. And so, the greatness that appeared in Leo I and Gregory I is certainly also visible here.

Let us leave open the question of whether the epithet “the great” will prevail or not. It is true that God’s power and goodness have become visible to all of us in John Paul II. In a time when the Church is again suffering from the oppression of evil, he is for us a sign of hope and confidence.

Dear Saint John Paul II, Pray for us!

Benedict XVI

Responding to the Pandemic, Lessons for Future Actions and Changing Priorities. Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Responding to the Pandemic, Lessons for Future Actions and Changing Priorities

The Vatican, Casina Pio IV on March 20, 2020

A Statement by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences

In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and of Social Sciences issue this communication. We note with great appreciation the tremendous services currently provided by health workers and medical professionals, including virologists and others. COVID-19 is a challenge for societies, their health systems, and economies, and especially for directly and indirectly affected people and their families. In the history of humanity, pandemics have always been tragic and have often been deadlier than wars. Today thanks to science, our knowledge is more advanced and can increasingly defend us against new forms of pandemics. Our statement intends to focus on science, science policy, and health policy actions in a broader societal context. We draw attention to the need for action, short- and long-term lessons, and future adjustments of priorities with these five points:
1.     Strengthening early action and early responses:

  1. Health systems need to be strengthened in all countries. The need for early warning and early response is a lesson learned so far from the COVID-19 crisis. It is vitally important to get ahead of the curve in dealing with such global crises. We emphasize that public health measures must be initiated instantaneously in every country to combat the continuing spread of this virus. The need for testing at scale must be recognized and acted upon, and people who test positive for COVID-19 must be quarantined, along with their close contacts.
  2. We received advance warning of the outbreak a few months before it hit us on a global scale. In the future we need to better coordinate efforts on both the political and health care fronts to prepare and protect the population.
  3. Governments, public institutions, science communities, and the media (incl. social media) failed to ensure responsible, transparent, and timely communication, which is crucial for appropriate action. International organisations like WHO and UNICEF, but also academies of sciences, need to be supported in their communication efforts so that their scientific evidence-based information can rise above the cacophony of unproven assumptions spreading all over the world.
  4. Civil society must be suitably empowered, because the resolution of the present threats requires not only global cooperation but also distributed actions that can only be undertaken satisfactorily by local communities. Given that pandemics render personal face-to-face contacts impossible, efforts need to be made to apply and to further improve communications technologies.

2.     Expanding support of science and actions by scientific communities:

  1. Strengthening basic research enhances the capacity to detect, to respond, and to ultimately prevent or at least mitigate catastrophes such as pandemics. Science needs better funding at a national and transnational level, so that scientists have the means to discover the right drugs and vaccines. Pharmaceutical companies have a key responsibility to produce those drugs at scale if possible.
  2. Scientists in all nations already tend to serve with a global perspective when generating preventions and cures. This humane attitude needs further support. Professional associations and science academies need to check whether they can serve better in cooperation with international agencies such as WHO and others, and how.
  3. An important research area is understanding the root causes and prevention of zoonotic diseases, i.e. infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites that spread from animals to humans. Food-related animal production systems may need reshaping to reduce the risks of zoonotic breeding grounds. We also need to know more about the psychological foundations of human behavior in situations of collective stress, in order to decide on appropriate governance strategies in crises.

3.     Protecting poor and vulnerable people:

  1. COVID-19 is a common threat that may harm one country sooner than another but will eventually harm us all. Health workers fighting pandemics in the front lines need the best possible support and protection. Women, who are the majority of health workers and are often most at risk, still suffer the same injustices as in other areas of work. This must stop.
  2. We are concerned about the selfishness and shortsightedness of uncoordinated national responses. This is the time to prove that the “Family of Nations” (Paul VI and John Paul II) or the “Family of Peoples” (Pope Francis) are communities of values with a common origin and shared destiny.
  3. Broad-based policy action in the field of public health is essential in all countries to protect poor and vulnerable people from the virus. COVID-19 will also have an adverse impact on worldwide economies. Unless mitigated, the anticipated disrupting consequences on food production and supply, and numerous other systems, will hurt especially the poor.
  4. Pandemics represent a threat to the millions of refugees, migrants and forcibly displaced. We implore the global community to intensify efforts to protect the most vulnerable among us.
  5. The obligatory focus on keeping COVID-19 at bay can have large consequences on those suffering from other diseases. Complex ethical issues arise at the global, national, and local level in the health practice, when first-come-first-serve action rules may break down. This is a general issue, but during a crisis it deserves special  consideration as well as a joint scientific and ethical commitment.

4.     Shaping global interdependencies and help across and within nations:

  1. Decades of increasing interconnectedness have opened up the world to massive cross-border flows of goods, services, money, ideas, and people. Under normal circumstances these developments enhance the wellbeing and prosperity of large proportions of the world’s population. Under abnormal circumstances, however, we experience the adverse consequences and fragility of interconnectedness. The sheer scale and scope of the current globalism has made the world unprecedentedly interdependent – and thus vulnerable and dysfunctional during crises. For example, the COVID-19 outbreak is prompting demand for more national isolation. However, seeking protection through isolationism would be misguided and counterproductive. A trend worth backing would be a strong demand for greater global cooperation. Transnational and international organizations need to be equipped and supported to serve that purpose.
  2. Only governance based on sound scientific evidence and a solid basis of shared fundamental values can mitigate the consequences of such crises. Unless governments reduce their nationalistic interests, there is reason to expect a worsening of the health crisis and consequently a deep global recession, with profound and tragic implications especially for poor countries.
  3. Mitigation measures to curb the rapid spread of contagion sometimes require closing borders around affected hotspots. Nevertheless, national borders must not become barriers hindering help across nations. Human resources, equipment, knowledge about best practices, treatments, and supplies must be shared.
  4. Global problems such as pandemics or the less visible crises of global climate change and biodiversity loss demand global cooperative responses. We must take into account the relationships between human activities, global ecology and livelihoods. Once COVID-19 is under control, we cannot go back to business as usual. A thorough review of worldviews, lifestyles, and short-term economic valuations must be carried out to cope with the challenges of the Anthropocene. A more responsible, more sharing, more equalitarian, more caring and fairer society is required if we are to survive.
  5. We insist that global crises demand collective action. The prevention and containment of pandemics is a global public good (Laudato Si‘) and protecting it requires increased global coordination as well as temporary and adaptive decoupling. At a time when rule-based multilateralism is declining, the COVID-19  crisis should encourage efforts to bring about a new – in the sense of different – globalization model aimed at inclusive protection of all.

5.     Strengthening solidarity and compassion:

  1. Apart from a scientific, technical and health policy agenda, we must not forget social cohesion. Churches, as well as all faith- and value-based communities, are called to action.
  2. A lesson the virus is teaching us is that freedom cannot be enjoyed without responsibility and solidarity. Freedom divorced from solidarity breeds pure and destructive egoism. Nobody can succeed alone. The COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to become more conscious of how important good relationships are in our lives.
  3. Today’s paradox is that we realize that each person needs to cooperate with other people at the exact same time as it becomes necessary to isolate ourselves from everyone else for health reasons. However, this paradox is only apparent since the act of staying at home is an act of profound solidarity. It is to “love your neighbor as yourself”. The lesson the pandemic teaches us is that, without solidarity, freedom and equality are just empty words (Pope Francis).

Signed by

Joachim von Braun, President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (PAS). University of Bonn, Germany

Stefano Zamagni, President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (PASS). University of Bologna, Italy

Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, Bishop Chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Sciences (PAS) and of Social Sciences (PASS), Vatican City

Dario Edoardo Viganò, Vice Chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Sciences (PAS) and of Social Sciences (PASS), Vatican City

Werner Arber, PAS Academician and Council Member, Former PAS President, Professor, Biozentrum, University of Basel, Nobel Laureate in Physiology, Switzerland

Frances Arnold, PAS Academician, Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA

Vanderlei Bagnato, PAS Academician and Council Member, Professor, Department of Physics and Materials Science, University of São Paulo and the Institute of Physics of São Carlos, Brazil

John D. Barrow, FRS, PAS Academician, Professor of Mathematical Sciences in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical, Director of the Millennium Mathematics Programme, Cambridge University, UK

Antonio M. Battro, MD, PhD, PAS Academician and Director of the International School on Mind, Brain and Education, Ettore Majorana Foundation and Centre for Scientific Culture, Erice. Member of the Academia Nacional de Educación, Argentina

Helen M. Blau, Ph.D., PAS Academician and Donald E. and Delia B. Baxter Foundation Professor, Director, Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Stanford, USA

Rocco Buttiglione, PASS Academician, Istituto di Filosofia Edith Stein, Granada, Spain

Steven Chu, PAS Academician, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Physics, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology, Stanford University, USA

Aaron Ciechanover, PAS Academician, The Rappaport Faculty of Medicine and Research Institute, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel

Guy Consolmagno, PAS Academician Perdurante Munere, Specola Vaticana, Vatican City

Yves Coppens, PAS Academician, Collège de France, Paleoanthropologie et prehistoire, Paris, France

Paul Crutzen, PAS Academician and Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Max-Planck-Institute for Chemistry, Mainz, Germany

Partha Dasgupta, PASS Academician, Frank Ramsey Professor Emeritus of Economics, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge, UK

Francis L. Delmonico, M.D., PAS Academician and Council Member, Professor of Surgery Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital. Chair World Health Organization Task Force Donation and Transplantation of Organs and Tissues, USA

Edward M. De Robertis, PAS Academician and Distinguished Professor, Biological Chemistry, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

Pierpaolo Donati, PASS Academician and Council Member, Professor of Sociology, Dept. of Political and Social Sciences, University of Bologna, Italy

Gérard-François Dumont, PASS Academician, Rector, Professor at the Sorbonne, Paris, France

Christoph Engel, PASS Academician, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, Bonn, Germany

Elaine Fuchs, PAS Academician, Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Rebecca C. Lancefield Professor of the Rockefeller University, New York, USA

Takashi Gojobori, PAS Academician and Distinguished Professor, CBRC (Computational Bioscience Research Center), BESE (Biological and Environmental Sciences and Engineering), KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology), Thuwal, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Ana Marta González, PASS Academician and Scientific Coordinator, Institute for Culture and Society, Dept. of Philosophy, University of Navarra, Spain

Mohamed H.A. Hassan, PAS Academician, Sudanese National Academy of Sciences (SNAS), Khartoum North, Sudan

Michael Heller, PAS Academician, Pontifical Academy of Theology, Faculty of Philosophy, Kraków, Poland

Allen D. Hertzke, PASS Academician and David Ross Boyd Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Oklahoma, USA

Vittorio Hösle, PASS Academician and Council Member, Professor of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame, USA

Niraja Gopal Jayal, PASS Academician and Professor, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India

Charles Kennel, Director and Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD, USA

Nicole Le Douarin, PAS Academician and Council Member, Professeur Honoraire au Collège de France, Secrétaire Perpétuelle Honoraire de l’Académie des Sciences, France

Yuan Tseh Lee, PAS Academician, Academia Sinica, Institute of Atomic and Molecular Sciences, Taipei, Taiwan (ROC)

Jean-Marie Lehn, PAS Academician, Université Louis Pasteur, Laboratoire de Chimie Supramoléculaire ISIS-ULP, Strasbourg, France

Pierre Léna, PAS Academician and Professor Emeritus, Université Paris Diderot, France

Thomas E. Lovejoy, PhD, University Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA Senior Fellow United Nations Foundation

John F. McEldowney, PASS Academician and Professor, School of Law, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK

Marcia K. McNutt, President, National Academy of Sciences (signing in her personal capacity)

Yuri Manin, PAS Academician, Max Planck Institute of Mathematics, Bonn, Germany

Roland Minnerath, PASS Academician and Council Member, Archbishop of Dijon, Historian, France

Jürgen Mittelstrass, PAS Academician, Konstanzer Wissenschaftsforums, University of Constance, Germany

Mario Molina, PAS Academician, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA

Erna Möller, PAS Academician, Sweden;

Salvador Moncada, PAS Academician and Professor, MD, Research Domain Director for Cancer at the University of Manchester, UK and Honduras

Rudolf Muradyan, PAS Academician, USA

Ryoji Noyori, PAS Academician, Center for Research and Development Strategy (CRDS), Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), Riken Fellow, University Professor, Nagoya University, Japan, Nobel laureate in Chemistry

Naomi Oreskes, Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University, USA

Cesare Pasini, PAS Academician Perdurante Munere and Prefect, Vatican Apostolic Library, Vatican City

Ingo Potrykus, PAS Academician, Switzerland

Veerabhadran Ramanathan, PAS Academician and Council Member, Professor, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego, USA

Peter H. Raven, PAS Academician and President Emeritus, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO, USA

Martin Rees, PAS Academician and Council Member, former Astronomer Royal, and Trinity College Cambridge, and President of the Royal Society, UK

Gregory M. Reichberg, PASS Academician, Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO), Oslo, Norway

Dani Rodrik, PASS Academician and Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, USA

Louis Sabourin, PASS Academician, École Nationale d’Administration Publique (GERFI), Université du Québec, Canada

Jeffrey D. Sachs, University Professor and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Commissioner of the UN Broadband Commission for Development, and SDG Advocate under UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Michael Sela, PAS Academician, the Weizmann Institute of Science, Department of Immunology, Rehovot, Israel

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, PAS Academician, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Potsdam, Germany

Wolf Singer, PAS Academician and Council Member, Professor of Physiology at the Goethe University Frankfurt, and Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, Frankfurt, Germany

Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco, PASS Academician and Council Member, Dean & Distinguished Professor of Education UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, USA

Govind Swarup, FRS, PAS Academician and former Centre Director NCRA & GMRT, Honorary Fellow of TIFR, India

Hans Tuppy, PAS Academician, University of Vienna, Institute of Biochemistry, Austria

Rafael Vicuña, PAS Academician, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas, Departamento de Génetica Molecular y Microbiología, Santiago, Chile

Wilfrido Villacorta, PASS Academician and Professor Emeritus, De La Salle University, Philippines

Edward Witten, PAS Academician, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton NJ, USA

Ada Yonath, PAS Academician, Director of the Helen and Milton A. Kimmelman Center for Biomolecular Structure and Assembly of the Weizmann Institute of Science. Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Israel

Paulus Zulu, PASS Academician and Council Member, Professor, University of Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa

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