NEW YORK — A Vatican cardinal is warning that the tendency to be egotistical or nationalistic in the face of a global pandemic must be countered by a renewed understanding of human fraternity. 

“Pandemics do not have to break us up,” warned Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, during an online discussion on Tuesday. “The solutions may not come from a single brain or a single individual.” 

The virtual panel on the “Global Dimensions of the Coronavirus Crisis: Responsibility and Solidarity, Policies and Priorities,” was organized by the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University. In addition to Turkson, panelists included David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, a Christian advocacy organization to end hunger, and Haydee Diaz, program director for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Uganda. John Carr, the director of the Initiative, moderated the conversation. 

In a file photo, Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, met with physicians and other staff dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic at Rome’s Gemelli hospital April 3, 2020. (Credit: CNS photo/Vatican Media.)

The Ghanian-born cardinal is leading the Vatican’s task force in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He echoed Pope Francis’s words that the current crisis must lead to a new contagion of hope where individual or national desires are sacrificed for the good of the global community.  

Beckmann, who has led a global alliance dedicated to ending hunger for the past twenty-five years, offered a stinging assessment of the United States’ leadership in the world at the moment. 

“We’re the richest, most powerful nation in the world. We have responsibilities for leadership globally, and we are not providing,” he told attendees. While he said he was pleased to see bipartisan efforts over the past two months to provide short term relief to Americans during the crisis, he said that to date, only “one tenth of one percent” of what has been allocated has gone toward international aid. 

“The way to change that is us,” said Beckmann, who urged listeners to contact their congressional representatives and lobby for greater international aid in future relief packages. 

David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, in a May 2, 2019, file photo. (Credit: Bob Roller/CNS.)

He said that while many legislators may view the immediate priority to be that of taking care of citizens at home, Beckman insisted that “we can walk and chew gum at the same time.”

“Long term,” he continued. “it’s in our own interests to be a good part of the global community.”

In Uganda, Diaz said that CRS has been involved in the local response through increasing education and awareness of the virus through the radio, installing hand washing facilities, and working with local farmers, where even prior to the pandemic, there wasn’t enough food in the country to meet its nutritional needs. 

“As Catholics, we really are called to serve the most vulnerable,” she said, offering the story of a local taxi driver she knows who is out of work who recently told her that children had been coming by his house asking for permission to have some of the sugar can plant in front of his home. 

Members of the country’s armed forces, the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF), help to distribute foodstuffs to people affected by the lockdown measures aimed at curbing the spread of the new coronavirus, in the Bwaise suburb of the capital Kampala, Uganda Saturday, April 4, 2020. (Credit: Ronald Kabuubi/AP.)

The reason, she later realized, is that it was the only form of sustenance they could get access to at the moment. “There is no safety net in Uganda,” she said.

Diaz went on to note that CRS often hosts delegations from the United States visiting Uganda who often remark on the laudable nature of their field operations. 

“American Catholics fail to realize that wherever we may be, we really are just an extension of the Catholic Church’s solidarity,” she said, noting that now, more than ever, it is time to reclaim that sense of global solidarity, even if the tendency for many people is to concern themselves with their own immediate needs. 

People wearing face masks walk past closed street stalls and shops due to a government ban on the operation of non-essential businesses and markets to halt the spread of the new coronavirus, in Lagos, Nigeria Thursday, March 26, 2020. (Credit: Sunday Alamba/AP.)

“The poor are counting on us. There are people today who have skipped a meal. They’re not sure where their next meal is coming from,” she said. “It’s going to come from every single one of us that is committed to solidarity, to loving our brothers and sisters.”

Beckmann, who is a Lutheran, cited what he dubbed his favorite book, Pope Francis’s 2013 apsotolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel.”

“He wrote it not just to Catholics but the rest of us too,” said Beckmann. “What he basically said is that the Gospel of God’s love in Jesus Christ gives us tremendous joy. That joy moves us to try to change the world to make the whole world more consistent with the fact that God loves you and me and everybody.” 

“That’s a powerful motivation,” Beckmann said, “to reach out to people in our own communities who are hungry but also to people in Kampala and all over Africa and around the world.”

Follow Christopher White on Twitter: @cwwhite212