Pope Francis dedicates general audiences to post-COVID renewal

By Christopher Lamb | Contributor
Wednesday, September 2, 2020

New Swiss Guard members stand at attention during their swearing-in ceremony in the Vatican’s San Damaso courtyard in this May 6, 2015, file photo. Starting Sept. 2, 2020, Pope Francis will resume his general audience with the public present in the courtyard. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Early last month, Pope Francis announced that he would be dedicating his Wednesday general audiences to how the church’s social teaching can offer a framework for post-COVID renewal.

Speculation is swirling in Rome that the pope is preparing another encyclical, with a focus on “human fraternity,” and the urgency of interreligious cooperation in light of the pandemic.

For now, Francis is focusing on delivering his blueprint for a better world in messages aimed at ordinary Catholics. On Sept. 2, his Wednesday audiences moved out of the library in the Apostolic Palace, where they have been broadcast since March, and into the San Damaso courtyard and where they will take place in the presence of the faithful.

For the pope, the work of COVID-19 recovery is not just for the “experts” working in health, development or politics, but the whole church. He believes, one aide told me, that the Catholic tradition has a lot to contribute to the post-virus world. The pope argues that the inequality exposed by the virus is as big a crisis as the medical emergency.

“These symptoms of inequality reveal a social illness; it is a virus that comes from a sick economy,” the pope said during his Aug. 26 Wednesday audience. “And we must say it simply: the economy is sick. It has become ill. It is sick. It is the fruit of unequal economic growth — this is the illness.”

Central to his vision are applying the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity and the principles of the church’s social teaching, which can offer a remedy to what he describes as the “virus of social injustice.”

Catholic social teaching has been described as the hidden treasure of the church, designed to apply the values of the Gospel in the public square. It includes the principles of human dignity, the common good, a preferential option for the poor, solidarity, subsidiarity and care for the environment.

COVID-19, and the profound questions the pandemic raises about the organization of society, offers a chance to communicate the church’s social message to a broader audience. Francis is trying to seize this opportunity.

Along with his general audiences, the pope has a COVID-19 commission working full time on policy recommendations and practical assistance to poorer countries.

Salesian religious sister and economist, Alessandra Smerilli, is a key member of the commission. She’s also the first woman appointed as a counsellor to the Vatican City State’s administration.

“What would be worse than this crisis is the spectacle of wasting it, as Pope Francis has said,” she told Italian political talk show, Agorà, broadcast on Rai, the Italian national television network. “We must use all resources well. We need a long-term vision and [to] invest in the environment. The future of the economy is green.”

Sister Alessandra has been involved in planning a major summit on the economy to be held in Assisi at the end of November, which the pope is due to take part in. Titled “The Economy of Francis,” it will be attended by students, academics and entrepreneurs and it will offer a new type of economic model that is more sustainable, more local and that serves ordinary people.

The event is being seen as an “anti-Davos,” the World Economic Forum, and is taking St. Francis of Assisi as its spiritual guide; the 11th-century friar is celebrated for his witness to poverty, peace and care for creation, and is also this pope’s namesake.

Speaking of November, don’t expect the pope to make any political interventions ahead of the forthcoming U.S. presidential election. The Vatican is keen to avoid inflaming tensions but also alarmed to see issues of faith becoming politicized. Expect officials to point out the parameters for debate, rather than make specific judgments on candidates.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, Pope Francis’ point man on life issues in the Vatican, recently warned against “some topic of bioethics” becoming “extracted from its general context and put toward ideological strategies.” Such an approach, he told the news site Crux, “would do great harm.”

Francis’ defense of migrants, concern for the marginalized, care for the planet and a rejection of populist politics stoking nativist or nationalist sympathies has been evident throughout his pontificate.

He has warned world leaders who try to solve complex global problems such as the refugee crisis by merely building up barricades, and has repeatedly called on governments to address crises collectively.

“Those who build walls will become prisoners of the walls they put up,” Francis told reporters in 2019 on a return flight from Morocco. “This is history.”



  • pope francis
  • covid-19

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