Pope Francis: The pandemic has ‘given us a chance to develop new ways of living.’

Pope Francis waves as he leads the Angelus from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Aug. 16, 2020. The pope appealed for prayers for those who have lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The coronavirus pandemic “has given us a chance to develop new ways of living,” Pope Francis said in a message released by the Vatican on Sept. 1 in which he reiterated his call to “limit global average temperature rise” below 1.5 degrees Celsius and for “the cancellation of the debt of the most vulnerable countries in recognition of the severe impacts of the medical, social and economic crises they face as a result of Covid-19.”

Pope Francis also advocated the strengthening of “national and international legislation to regulate the activities of extractive mining companies and ensure access to justice for those affected,” especially Indigenous communities. He said they must be “protected” from “corporate misconduct,” particularly of multinational companies.

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The pope said the Covid-19 pandemic has “in some ways, given us a chance to develop new ways of living.” Indeed, “already we can see how the earth can recover if we allow it to rest: the air becomes cleaner, the waters clearer, and animals have returned to many places from where they had previously disappeared.”

The pope said the Covid-19 pandemic has “in some ways, given us a chance to develop new ways of living.”

He said: “The pandemic has brought us to a crossroads. We must use this decisive moment to end our superfluous and destructive goals and activities and to cultivate values, connections and activities that are lifegiving. We must examine our habits of energy usage, consumption, transportation and diet. We must eliminate the superfluous and destructive aspects of our economies and nurture life-giving ways to trade, produce and transport goods.”

He emphasized these issues in a message for the sixth World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation that begins today and ends on Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, around the time he is expected to issue a new encyclical on human fraternity.

After publishing the encyclical “Laudato Si’” in 2015, Pope Francis established this season of prayer, announcing in August that year that the Catholic Church worldwide would recognize Sept. 1 as a World Day of Prayer, joining an ecumenical celebration of prayer and action for our common home first started by the Orthodox Church in 1989.

He welcomed this year’s theme chosen by the ecumenical family, “Jubilee for the Earth,” because 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which began in the United States in 1969.

Pope Francis recalled that in the biblical tradition “a Jubilee is a sacred time to remember, return, rest, restore and rejoice.” He developed his message around these five verbs.

First, he said, a jubilee is “a time of grace to remember” that “we exist only in relationships: with God the Creator, with our brothers and sisters as members of a common family, and with all of God’s creatures within our common home.”

Pope Francis recalled that in the biblical tradition “a Jubilee is a sacred time to remember, return, rest, restore and rejoice.”

He said we need constantly to remember that “everything is interconnected and that genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others.”

Next, he reminded people that “a Jubilee is a time to turn back in repentance.” He said, “We have broken the bonds of our relationship with the Creator, with our fellow human beings, and with the rest of creation.” Consequently, “we need to heal the damaged relationship” and especially those “with the poor and the most vulnerable.”

He recalled that a jubilee “is a time for setting free the oppressed and all those shackled in the fetters of various forms of modern slavery, including trafficking in persons and child labor.”

It is also a time “to listen” to “the voice of creation” and “remember that we are part of this interconnected web of life, not its masters.” In this context, Francis said, “the disintegration of biodiversity, spiralling climate disasters, and unjust impact of the current pandemic on the poor and vulnerable: all these are a wakeup call in the face of our rampant greed and consumption.”

A jubilee year is also “a time to rest,” Francis said. He recalled that “God set aside the Sabbath so that the land and its inhabitants could rest and be renewed.” But, he noted, “our constant demand for growth and an endless cycle of production and consumption are exhausting the natural world.” He underlined the pressing need “to find just and sustainable ways of living...without destroying the ecosystems that sustain us.”

Moreover, he said, a jubilee year is also “a time to restore the original harmony of creation” and “to re-establish equitable societal relationships, restoring their freedom and goods to all and forgiving one another’s debts.”

Pope Francis: “The pandemic has brought us to a crossroads. We must use this decisive moment to end our superfluous and destructive goals and activities and to cultivate values, connections and activities that are lifegiving.”

In this context, he insisted that “we should not forget the historic exploitation of the global South that has created an enormous ecological debt, due mainly to resource plundering and excessive use of common environmental space for waste disposal.”

He identified 2020 as “a time for restorative justice” and called again “for the cancellation of the debt of the most vulnerable countries, in recognition of the severe impacts of the medical, social and economic crises they face as a result of Covid-19.” Moreover, he said, nations should ensure that the recovery packages “be focused on the common good and guarantee that global social and environmental goals are met.”

Speaking of the “need to restore the land,” Francis insisted that “climate restoration is of utmost importance, since we are in the midst of a climate emergency” and “are running out of time.”

He said it’s necessary “to do everything in our capacity to limit global average temperature rise under the threshold of 1.5°C enshrined in the Paris Climate Agreement, for going beyond that will prove catastrophic, especially for poor communities around the world.”

He appealed to all nations “to adopt more ambitious national targets to reduce emissions, in preparation for the important Climate Summit (COP 26),” which will be held in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021. His message is of particular relevance to the United States, the only major power to have withdrawn from the Paris Accord.

“Biodiversity restoration” is also necessary, Francis said. He urged governments “to support the U.N. call to safeguard 30 percent of the earth as protected habitats by 2030 in order to stem the alarming rate of biodiversity loss.” He appealed to the international community to work together to guarantee that the Summit on Biodiversity (COP 15) in Kunming, China, next October, “becomes a turning point in restoring the earth to be a home of life in abundance, as willed by the Creator.”

The first Latin American pope also advocated “restoring justice” for Indigenous communities by “ensuring that those who have lived on the land for generations can regain control over its usage.” He said these communities “must be protected from companies, particularly multinational companies, that operate in less developed countries in ways they could never do at home, through the destructive extraction of fossil fuels, minerals, timber and agroindustrial products.”

Quoting St. John Paul II, he denounced “this corporate misconduct” as a “new version of colonialism” that “shamefully exploits poorer countries and communities desperately seeking economic development.” He advocated stronger national and international legislation “to regulate the activities of extractive companies and ensure access to justice for those affected.”

Pope Francis concluded by recalling that in the biblical tradition a jubilee was also a cause for joy and said we, too, can rejoice as “we witness how the Holy Spirit is inspiring individuals and communities around the world to come together to rebuild our common home and defend the most vulnerable in our midst.”

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