Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Community: the antidote to the virus

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

To read this column in Spanish, click here.

On Jan. 30, Pope Francis spoke about the isolation and sense of loneliness caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. He observed that the virus has “dug into the living fabric of our existence, fueling fears, suspicions, mistrust and uncertainty.” How true it is.

We have witnessed how those deep visceral responses have invaded our political life, creating unrest and violence. Gun sales have skyrocketed in Illinois since March, as gun-transfer requests in 2020 spiked 44%, according to Illinois State Police. Indeed, the pandemic has bred the additional viruses of division, fear and even panic.

Yet, the pope urges, we must learn the lesson that this moment of crisis has taught us: “The only way to get out of a crisis better is to get out of a crisis together, re-embracing with more conviction the community in which we live.”

What makes Pope Francis’ remarks all the more noteworthy is that they came on the occasion of his address to members of the National Catechistic Office of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, as it celebrates its 60th anniversary. He took this moment to urge that the need to place community at the center of all we do has much to say about how we are to carry on as a church, especially as we pass on its teachings.

“This is not the time for elitist strategies. … The great community,” the pope continued, is “the holy faithful people of God. We cannot go on outside the holy faithful people of God, who — as the [Second Vatican] Council says — are infallible in believing.” Elitism “distances you from the people of God, perhaps with sophisticated formulas, but you lose that membership of the church that is the holy faithful people of God,” the pope said.

The message is clear. We all must listen to one another in the church, and no person or group can claim to have all the answers. The task before us is to pave the way in the church for all to participate. This is not a time to discard those who disagree or have not yet come to a full understanding and acceptance of what the church teaches. Rather, this is a time to cultivate an ethic of genuine listening, of broadening participation in the life of the church — both as a path toward a more unified community of faith, and as a means of escaping isolation of several kinds.

As the Holy Father observed, this is “the time to be artisans of open communities” and “missionaries” of “communities that look disappointed young people in the eye, that welcome strangers and give hope to the distrusted. … It is the time of community that, like the Good Samaritan, knows how to be close to those who are wounded by life, to bandage their wounds with compassion.”

His words bring to mind the homily of St. Pope Paul VI, given on the occasion of my classmates’ ordination to the priesthood in St. Peter’s Square on Jan. 29, 1975. He urged the hundreds of priests he ordained that day: “Know how to welcome as an invitation the very reproach that perhaps, and often unjustly, the world throws against the messenger of the Gospel! Know how to listen to the cry of the poor, the candid voice of the child, the pensive cry of youth, the lament of the weary worker, the sigh of the sufferer and the criticism of the thinker! Never be afraid! ‘Nolite timere!’ the Lord repeated. The Lord is with you.”

Pope Francis continues this same message in our day by putting the word “synodality” at the centerpiece of his service as pontiff . Synodality, rather than a process of decision-making, describes the nature of the church.

For the church to be true to its nature, circumstances must be created to allow all its members to take co-responsibility by sharing their talents in a bond of mutual communion and respect. Or, as the Holy Father noted in his address celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops (Oct. 17, 2015), “The ‘sensus fidei’ [the appreciation of the faith by the faithful] prevents a rigid separation between an ‘ecclesia docens’ and an ‘ecclesia discerns’ [a teaching and learning church], since the flock likewise has an instinctive ability to discern the new ways that the Lord is revealing to the church.” 

That includes young people, women and men, critics, those who suffer injustice and live at the margins of society. This is a time to build bridges so that community life can flourish, even if there are still unsettled tensions and different points of view, for it is in this space that God’s grace is often given. Everyone must be included in charting a path forward, as opposed to selecting who remains and who is cast out.

The pope is right. The pandemic has left us isolated, fearful and suspicious of one another. This virus has dug deeply “into the living fabric of our existence,” as he noted. All the more reason for us as a church to be vigilant so that this infection will not invade the life of the church by leaving us suspicious or mistrusting of one another. The only antidote to this virus of division is one that Jesus himself prayed for on the night before he died — “that they may be one.” It is community, our shared life together, that must be the core value we pursue and promote.


  • covid-19