Watching our children struggle to connect with classmates and teachers over iPads, pondering strategies for safely returning to work or for finding new work, many of us will no doubt have a hard time imagining a post-COVID-19 world. But at some point—may it be soon—life may begin to look like something we recognize again. Should it?
Pope Francis has acknowledged the suffering created by the pandemic but has also suggested that the novel coronavirus era can be appreciated as an opportunity to reinvent not only relationships among workers and consumers and people and states but also humankind’s relationship with creation. The pope has poignantly asked: What kind of world do we want to return to?
We will emerge from this experience eventually “either better or worse,” the pope said. “We must come out better.” To come out on the other side a better nation, a better world, and better people, what changes might we consider?
Restore relationships in commerce
The crisis has laid bare the mistreatment of workers in food production and exploitative practices in sectors where workers have been deemed essential. Those of us fortunate to have weathered the pandemic working remotely cannot return to thoughtless consumption and an uncritical acceptance of the inequities that have been hardwired into our food production and distribution systems. Stronger protections, common-sense benefits such as sick and family leave, and a minimum wage that gets closer to a just wage should be minimum standards for a post-COVID-19 working world.
Disconnect health care from employment
Case counts and unemployment tragically rose together as the pandemic accelerated and national lockdowns began that put millions out of work. For many, COVID-19 illness was accompanied by the loss of the job that had connected them to health care. Rarely have the contradictions, shortsightedness, and cruelty of America’s health care delivery system been more stark.
Renew our stewardship of creation
The global lockdown offered creation an unexpected respite from the overconsumption that has been a “normal” privilege of life in the affluent world. We stopped commuting and driving and called a halt to some pursuits such as air travel that place the greatest strain on the Earth. Carbon emissions declined by 25 percent as the virus staggered economies around the world.
The International Energy Agency sees the 2020 emissions collapse as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to respond to the threat of climate change and reset priorities on energy production.
Distribute the wealth
Decades of steadily growing inequity in wealth went into hyperdrive during the pandemic lockdown. A handful of the world’s wealthy became wealthier while job losses staggered the progress out of abject poverty for millions of vulnerable families around the world. How long can the vast discrepancy in wealth creation and retention be ignored as thousands of U.S. families face evictions and hunger because of COVID-19?
The novel coronavirus has acted as a global stress test that should shock us out of a complacency with social deficits that have moldered unaddressed for decades. “We must treat a great virus,” Pope Francis told us—but perhaps not the one we think.
We must treat a virus, he said, “of social injustice, of inequality of opportunity, of being marginalized, and of lack of protection of the weakest.” A return to normality can’t be allowed to mean merely returning to a vast indifference to political or economic injustice and the degradation of creation. “An emergency like COVID-19,” Pope Francis pointed out, “is overcome . . . by the antibodies of solidarity.”
This article also appears in the November issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 85, No. 11, page 42). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.
Image: Unsplash/Alexander Popov