Speaking at the sixth Interfaith Dialogue 2021 in Geneva on Wednesday, the Vatican official highlighted the common conviction that inspired the meeting, noting that the annual conference allows us “to share what is important to us, in a spirit of trust and fraternity, so that we can learn from each other, help each other and grow together in mutual respect.”
The event was themed, “The role of faith during the coronavirus pandemic.”
The pandemic and its effects
Archbishop JurkoviÄ remarked on the devastating effects of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. He noted that it is shocking to reflect that just over a year ago, this new and practically unknown disease would overturn the world as we know it.
Every aspect of our lives has been affected, he stated. “Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives, countless others are suffering from the severe health crisis; many businesses have been closed around the world, many of which will never be able to reopen their doors, national economies have been devastated; production was stopped in many places, education has been reduced to virtual learning or has ceased altogether and situations of poverty have been pushed to the breaking point.”
Particularly affected by the ongoing health emergency, the Archbishop noted, are “migrants, refugees, indigenous peoples, children and mothers.” He further noted that innumerable people who were in a state of dire poverty before the pandemic have since died from starvation. All these, just as much as those who have contracted the virus, must be counted among the victims of this bitter scourge,” he said.
The unseen, subtler effects of the pandemic
Speaking further on the pandemic’s negative effects, the Archbishop pointed out that in addition to all the external consequences of the pandemic, perhaps the most unsettling ones are the more subtle, interior crises.
While emphasizing the importance of the health restrictions implemented around the world to ensure a safe environment for all, he noted, however, that “isolation at home, wearing of a mask, the loss of jobs, the impossibility to physically interact with family and friends” continue to have a profound psychological, emotional and spiritual impact on each of us.
From a Christian point of view, “God desires communion,” the Archbishop said. “The Almighty created us so that we can enter into a deep and meaningful relationship with our Creator and with one another. Only through this mutual and open sharing of ourselves we find true contentment and peace.”
However, he lamented, the covid pandemic has exacerbated some of the already existing tensions and increased the threats to unity between individuals, peoples, cultures and nations, and increased inequalities. He noted that “when resources and medical treatments are limited, it is understandable that each person and nation will seek to secure a stockpile for their loved ones but this “self-interested, myopic approach stands in direct contradiction to the unity and communion that truly brings fulfillment to the human heart.”
“The stockpiling of vaccines, the insistence on patent rights, the closing of borders and the general turning-in on oneself is an understandable reaction to the crisis,” the Archbishop said. However, “these responses, rather than helping us, really inflict upon us a much deeper plague than the Covid-19 pandemic…if left unchecked, it could separate us from what makes us truly human: our compassion and desire to live in fraternal communion.”
The reaction of faith amidst the pandemic
In the face of the current situation, our faith teaches us to look beyond ourselves and our immediate needs towards the common good, the Archbishop insisted. It is, therefore, no coincidence that the major faith traditions place a strong emphasis on selfless love, encouraging us all to take care of our brothers and sisters.
Archbishop JurkoviÄ went on to reaffirm the commitment of Pope Francis and the Holy See to ensuring that the pandemic does not lead to even more tragic consequences and a further deterioration of authentic human interaction. Thus, in this regard, an ad hoc Commission was set up within the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development with the aim of fostering authentic and holistic care for all those affected by the pandemic.
Pope Francis’ latest Encyclical Fratelli tutti also puts at its center, the importance of human fraternity and the role of religious traditions in its promotion. In the Encyclical, the Pope emphasizes that different religions, inspired by their respect for the human person as a creature called to be a daughter or son of God, are called to contribute significantly to building fraternity and defending justice in society.
Concluding, the Permanent Observer, reiterating the Holy Father’s words in his message to the members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, stressed that the pandemic which has forced us to endure months of isolation and loneliness has also brought out the need for human relationships. He added that all of us, strengthened by our traditions and religious beliefs, can testify to the value and importance of cultivating spiritual health, rooted in fraternity and love, as an effective way to heal the world around us.