LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Echoing Pope Francis’s claim that the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is an “opportunity for conversion” on ecological issues, several bishops in England have said the “new normal” after the pandemic can’t be business as usual.
“People are already speaking about the longer-term expectations: What can we be doing now in thinking about what we want to return to?” Bishop John Arnold said during a Zoom conference with reporters.
Arnold is the lead bishop on the environment for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
“We are not going back to ‘the normal’ but what do we want our ‘new normal’ to look like,” he continued.
“This is the most wonderful opportunity to see where there are Gospel values that we can promote in new ways; and probably people have been so affected by the shutdown, or the consequences of all the directives of the government, maybe to question our priorities and how we might build a better society has we return to a new normal after the pandemic,” Arnold said.
In an interview with British journalist Austen Ivereigh about the pandemic, Pope Francis said has seen “early signs of an economy that is less liquid, more human.”
“Today I believe we have to slow down our rate of production and consumption (Laudato Di’, 191) and to learn to understand and contemplate the natural world. We need to reconnect with our real surroundings. This is the opportunity for conversion,” Francis said.
“But let us not lose our memory once all this is past, let us not file it away and go back to where we were. This is the time to take the decisive step, to move from using and misusing nature to contemplating it. We have lost the contemplative dimension; we have to get it back at this time,” the pontiff said.
Bishop Richard Moth of Arundel and Brighton told Crux he didn’t “think we will be going back to doing business quite the same way in the future.”
He said this is partly because some of the policies and methods made necessary by the lockdown will live on after it lifts.
“Quite a bit of diocesan meeting business will probably be carried on [through teleconferencing], which is going to cut down the mileage quite a lot. And that is just one example, and I expect we will see more of this,” Moth said.
“People are talking improved air quality in the towns, and my friends up in London talking about how much cleaner it is up there; I think people will see a benefit from some of the new ways that we are using the technology, which I suspect some of that will remain with us, and I hope that will be the case.”
Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham agreed.
“It’s wonderful to see nature creeping back into our towns and cities, but they are little reminders of where we are and who we share the planet with,” he told Crux.
“I think the whole perspective on environmental issues is changing at present because of the experience of coronavirus,” Longley said.
Arnold stressed he didn’t want to make the environmental issues “the important subject at the moment” during the pandemic, but said it was still “incredibly important.”
“Indeed, this crisis of the virus can be very helpful to us in looking at that connectivity that Pope Francis puts into everything these days: That our actions together affect our brothers and sisters around the world; that we have care for our common home, and we are coming to some self-knowledge about what we have done to our planet, [and] what we can be doing to mend the damage; how we can change our lives without losing a lot of the advantage of our prosperity, but we can be concerned more for our brothers and sisters that are in need around the world, and that we have a duty to do so,” he told Crux.
He said that dealing with environmental issues such as climate change are an important aspect of the Church’s work in the world.
“I sometimes get an angry email saying, ‘the environment has nothing to do with us as Christians, let’s get on with our faith and our prayer.’ Well, excuse me, it has everything to do with our faith, and I think we are learning that very quickly now,” Arnold said.
“I am sure that this can be a very active part of what the Church stands for and the policies we have, and the impact we can have for the good in our society,” the bishop added.
Restrictions on business and travel have significantly dropped the level of carbon emissions around the world.
“Globally, “we’re seeing radical declines in transportation emissions and drops in other sectors of the economy,” Stanford University’s Rob Jackson, who heads a group of independent scientists who monitor global carbon pollution, told the Associated Press. “We haven’t seen anything like this since the Great Depression.”
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