Europe and the Virus
Mortality was a world away, disasters were elsewhere, far from our own world that seemed to keep us safe. Death was present, but consumerism and the good life distracted us, suppressing the fear of death in our hearts. An entire generation in Europe grew up in this shallow world and knew no other. Of course, economic crises sometimes troubled our security, but going out of an evening, traveling, a passion for consumerism all eclipsed our questioning and eclipsed our doubts too.
All that has changed now. Death, which had a secondary role behind the scenes far away from us, has returned to the center of the stage. Death and the finite nature of existence radically raise the question of the meaning of our life. Isolation and confinement are an opportunity to explore these matters and to reach a true conversion.
Our religious practice was shaped in the image of our societies: the “consumption” of religion does not make us women and men of God. It is listening to the Word, meditating on it in our hearts that makes us turn toward God. It is not the divine, understood as a religious product to be consumed, that gives us a sense of happiness, but the Father, who loves us beyond the end of our life, beyond our death.
And a true and sincere conversion always leads us to the human beings created by God and loved by him. A true conversion not only transforms our heart, but also changes our way of life, our actions.
The crisis we are going through shows that our economic models must change. Globalization is often blamed for it. For many years we have thought about the meaning of the term glocal, a combination of the words “global” and “local.” Unfortunately, this concept has remained the preserve of the elite few, and economies have taken the path of unbridled liberalism, where the only thing that matters is the maximization of profit. If we want better outcomes of coming crises, economies need their own “glocal” conversion, which includes remedying so many injustices in which the North takes advantage of the South.
Political leaders, if they want to be statesmen and not party politicians, must take the initiative. Let us labor under no illusion: today we are not experiencing “a great exception.” Crises like these will come back and will only be the beginning of the ecological crisis towards which our way of life is advancing.
The current crisis also shows us the need for human relations and networks of solidarity. Closed schools and kindergartens and work from home show us the importance of the family as the prime cell of solidarity. Past policies have undermined family networks, fostering individualism, the result of our economic preferences. I call on politicians to do everything possible to strengthen families, the prime nuclei of solidarity. I call on everyone to return to good neighborliness, which favors mutual support.
The biggest network of solidarity we have in focus is the European Union. Yet the EU seems paralyzed. The return to national interests seems an obvious course to most member states. On the anniversary of the Schengen Agreement, we see our borders closed with no possibility of real dialogue and no mutual agreement. The crisis seems to favor the individual interests of nations.
Epidemics have always left traces in the collective memory of peoples: masterpieces of literature, and religious edifices, such as the sanctuaries dedicated to the Madonna, St Rocco, St Sebastian. Processions still recall the plague epidemics that raged in Europe. What traces of the coronavirus pandemic will remain in the collective memory of the European peoples?
Europe cannot be built without a vision of Europe, without ideals. The fact that the European Union is closing itself off to refugees, the images of the overcrowded Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, and the thousands of refugees cast adrift in the Mediterranean have inflicted deep wounds on the European ideal.
The lack of solidarity during the coronavirus crisis can become a fatal wound. It is true that we know of Italian and French patients being treated in Germany, for example, as well as others in Luxembourg. But difficulties with European solidarity are clearly visible. I fear that for many this will be the moment of disenchantment with the European project.
The reconstruction after World War II was important for the formation of new networks of relations, such as the one that brought the United States and parts of Europe closer together. Along what lines can we now foresee the reconstruction of European countries at the end of the crisis? Without economic and financial aid, the risk is that the poor countries will become poorer. This is the last chance for the European project. I hope with all my heart that the countries of the North will show solidarity with the countries of Southern Europe, and that they will make every effort possible in a great gesture of European solidarity, motivated by generosity, not fear. Otherwise, it is not only the European project that will be at risk. It is the map of the world that will change after this crisis. Europe could come out weaker, and the return to nationalism could weaken the nation-states themselves.
The crisis is a turning point: it could weaken us or make us respond effectively to new challenges. The coronavirus crisis presents us with personal, existential and religious challenges. It also presents us with social and political challenges for Europe. As Christians, we are called to meditate on all these challenges, associating them with the Paschal Mystery, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord and brother.