ROSARIO, Argentina – According to a member of Pope Francis’s commission for a post-COVID-19 world, there’s a need for a radical response to a “radical crisis.”
“The COVID-19 emergency is pushing the world to a different scenario,” said Argentine Father Augusto Zampini, adjunct Secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and member of the Vatican’s COVID-19 commission. “This will change necessarily, as Pope Francis has said, we will emerge different, and we have to decide if better or worse.”
“Because the Church is in the world, we are not foreign this challenge,” he said. “The Church needs to respond to this crisis in a radical way because it’s a radical crisis.”
Zampini noted that the immediacy of the emergency, solutions must be thought out for the long term.
“COVID-19 is also pushing the Church into refining its mission,” he said.
“This is something that we have to respond to urgently. It’s very complex, but it requires simplicity in its solution. The Church that is always trying to respond to reality following the tradition of the Church: How are we going to respond to this tiny virus that is making all the major viruses we have all the more visible?”
He then listed several things as “major viruses,” from the need to care for “our common home,” poverty, inequality, and so on.
Zampini said he believes that the COVID-19 crisis will speed up some of the reforms that Pope Francis is proposing for the world: “What does it mean to love our neighbors and enemies? What does it mean to create a culture of encounter and peace?”
“We cannot be the same institution in a different world,” he said. “We need to be able to say something new, because the word of God is always new.”
Zampini’s was speaking Monday during a panel on “Pope Francis and the Reform of the Church” organized by Georgetown University and La Civiltà Cattolica, and co-sponsored by Georgetown’s Initiative for Catholic Social Thought in Public Life and Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.
The panel included papal biographer Austen Ivereigh, the co-founder of Catholic Voices, and Paul Elie, Senior Fellow with the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.
The panel was introduced by Italian Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, the director of the Jesuit-ran La Civiltà Cattolica magazine; and was moderated by Debora Tonelli, Georgetown University’s representative in Rome.
“To reform means to start open processes and not to ‘cut heads’ or conquer spaces of power,” Spadaro said, before defining Francis as a pope of “processes.”
“The pope lives a constant dynamic of discernment, which opens him to the future,” he said. “It opens him also to the future of the reform of the Church.”
Spadaro said he believes that for Francis, the change of structures won’t be the result of reviewing “an organizational flow chart,” because this would be nothing more than an “inert reorganization.”
“The change must be linked to the dynamics of missionary work, it must be linked to current challenges,” he said. “The reform of the Church has to be a radical missionary transformation of the Church.”
Ivereigh said Francis is trying to change a culture and a mindset.
“He’s trying to take a culture and bureaucracy that in many ways was built to defend itself from the world, to put it at the service of the world,” he said, adding that the pope’s approach is a “long term one” that is “sowing seeds that other popes are probably going to harvest.”
Zampini said addressing the ongoing crisis cannot be seen as something “isolated.”
“We want to join forces, create synergy in order to create a more sustainable future, that creates the possibilities of actual encounters and that has a preferential option for the poor,” he said. “A society that creates conditions where we can have a healthy economy that doesn’t present the false dichotomy of having to choose between health and economy.”
Speaking specifically about the Vatican’s COVID-19 commission, the priest noted that it’s not their job to “find solutions” to the problems accentuated by the pandemic. Their goal is to help those who have to make decisions, “to ensure they make the best decisions they can,” in dialogue with a variety of fields – including science – but bringing “the creativity that faith brings.”
As an example, he noted the commission is working with parishes and bishops to try to understand the impact that the pandemic has had in the celebration of the sacraments; does the “virtual” way Mass has been celebrated mean that it’s not real? What happens with the Eucharist when it cannot be celebrated in community; and how to build communion in a world that requires social distancing to keep people safe.
“At least in the near future, we have to promote communion and community in a world promoting distance to preserve our health,” he said. “We’re working on this in dialogue with local churches, with scientists, local governments and international intuitions.”
“We’ve discovered that nobody has the solution, but everybody wants for the Church to participate, because they believe that with our spirituality, we have an important contribution to make,” Zampini said.
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