“When evening had come…” (Mk 4:35). Pope Francis stood alone on a canopied platform just outside the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica, fronting St. Peter’s Square. He peered into the enveloping dusk, perchance to see the usual throng of some 300,000 or more devotees waiting for the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessings on Christmas Day, Easter Sunday, or on the installation of a new Pope — like when he first blessed the flock as Pope in March 2013. But previous Urbi et Orbi blessings were given in the clarity of daylight.
That Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome (Urbi — for the city, “urban”) and Catholic leader for the world (Orbi — for the world, “orb” or “globe”) set the special Urbi et Orbi blessing in the darkened St. Peter’s Square was a metaphor for this troubled time of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic that has afflicted 621,592 people worldwide, killed 28,791 (as of March 28), and from which only 22% definitely recovered, for lack of a vaccine so far.
“For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm.” And Pope Francis talked about Jesus calming the storm, in the gospel of St. Mark (4:35-41).
“The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have been allowed to become dull and feeble at the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities,” Pope Francis said in his homily. “We have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste.” And now, in lockdowns of communities around the world, we are forced to slow down, and we have all the time to think inward.
“…seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of (the Lord’s) judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not,” Pope Francis exhorts. In the Christian theme of “Man fallen but redeemed,” faith in a Savior saves all from the storms of life: “Why are you afraid, have you no faith?” Jesus asks the disciples. But the allegory of the calming of the storm also calls up an apostrophe to free will: we are what we are, and we are where we have chosen to be.
And Pope Francis blessed the unseen multitudes watching from their quarantine in their homes, raising the gilded monstrance with the Body of Christ, in the Urbi et Orbi signum crucis. “The blessing grants a plenary indulgence to everyone who unites spiritually to this moment of prayer, including through media platforms in this special time, assuming one’s sincere intention of going to confession and receiving the Eucharist as soon as possible,” the Vatican statement on the Urbi et Orbi reminded. In the Catholic faith, contrition for sins and confession of these in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is followed by compliance with the penance given by the confessor-priest and voluntary retribution and rectification for the sins committed.
“In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters… (It means) finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity,”
Pope Francis suggests as recompense for the calamity we have brought unto ourselves. And in the tempest of this coronavirus pandemic, the whole world stood still, like when Jesus Christ calmed the storm. Space has been created where partisan politics had divided peoples and nations, and corrupted capitalism in its perverted extremes has justified the seven capital sins: pride, greed, lust, anger, envy, sloth, and gluttony as means to selfish ends. The lockdowns and quarantines of communities around the world has forced micro focus on the common welfare within families and communities in lieu of the macro objectives of countries obsessing to walk shoulder to shoulder with the big developed countries and the sprinting developing nations in the dizzying race of global trade and economics. The gap between the rich and the poor in countries rich or poor has been the proof of guilt for a world that has been unaware of, indifferent to, or has out rightly denied culpability of selfish greed of the haves versus the have-nots.
Because of the undiscriminating COVID-19 virus, the proud and mighty United States of America, the top economy in the world, has put aside its trade war with its bitter rival China, second largest, and probably the most influential economy in the world. Though China (not maliciously, for sure) brought the coronavirus to the world from first infestations in the livestock markets of Wuhan in Hubei province, China is now only number three most affected in the viral infection, with 81,439 cases, 3,300 deaths, and 75,448 recoveries. The US has topped the list for the past week, with 123,498 cases, 2,211 deaths, and 3,231 recoveries. Italy has squeezed in between the US and China with 92,472 cases, 10,023 deaths, and 12,384 recoveries. Spain, Germany, France, Iran, the UK, Switzerland, and the Netherlands complete the top 10 listing of the coronavirus infections as of yesterday, March 29, 2020.
For the first time since the World Wars that ended 75 years ago, global trade has not been foremost in the minds of countries around the world. Necessity has forced focus inward, where countries must “beggar thy neighbor” for the survival of their people before the vanities of power and money. With apparent “global distancing” now prevalent, will there be reverse globalization, or a revival of nationalization of economic activities, after COVID-19?
The US has set up a historic $2 trillion stimulus package for the COVID-19 emergency (the Obama rescue plan for the 2008 financial crisis was $800 million) which includes $500 billion in loans and assistance for big companies, with $17 billion specifically for Boeing Co.; $350 billion for small businesses; and direct payments to lower- and middle-income Americans of $1,200 for each adult, as well as $500 for each child. Together with Federal Reserve actions, the legislation amounted to a total $6 trillion stimulus, according to White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, or about 30% of annual GDP.
The rescue strategy for the Philippines centers on emergency powers given to President Rodrigo Duterte authorizing him to undertake extraordinary measures to contain COVID-19 and mobilize at least P200 billion to help over 24 million mostly-poor families in the country. The Department of Health (DoH) confirmed 1,075 cases as of March 28, with 68 deaths and 35 recoveries. The “enhanced community quarantine” in the whole of Luzon has been on since March 15, with noticeable good compliance by the worried Filipinos.
Christians and non-Christians alike have faith in an all-powerful and all-loving Spirit who will calm the storm and end our anxieties about this deadly COVID-19 virus.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.