A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Pandemic and the People of God

Fr Gerald Arbuckle SM

Fr Gerald Arbuckle SM’s latest book, published in early October, is
The Pandemic and the People of God: Cultural Impacts and Pastoral Responses,
(Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2021), $US25.  This article presents an overview of the book.

The situation

As a consequence of Covid-19 disease, the world is grappling with the most severe health, economic and political emergency since the Second World War.

It has left so many people in so many nations traumatised. An untold number of people have died. The enduring human suffering, especially among society's most vulnerable -- the poor and elderly -- is incalculable. It is estimated that the pandemic could cast 490 million in 70 countries into extreme poverty, reversing almost a decade of advances. Business institutions world-wide have encountered disruptions at a rate and scale without precedence since the Great Depression. Vaccines alone will not resolve the chaos.

No possibility of going back

There is an understandable yearning for 'normality' of the pre-Covid-19, but it cannot be.

When big spectacular cultural, political and economic events happen, such as the pandemic, the cultural, political, social and economic reverberations take years, even generations, to play out, and they rotate in uncertain directions. Moreover, an experience of such traumatic severity leaves physical and mental marks which are indelible. There is a difference between a felled tree and a felled human being. The tree is doomed. Uprooted human beings may be equally powerless, but they are conscious of their fate.

Refounding of the capitalist system

India: The poor are losing jobs, going hungry and falling victim to scams

Before the pandemic, economic and social inequalities, the breeding ground of violence and racial tensions, both within and between nations, had been on the rise.

The pandemic has dramatically intensified these cultural realities. The more unequal a society, the more the political and social upheaval. In order to move forward in a transforming manner, therefore, there needs to be a narrative, not of individualism, that is, 'dog-eat-dogism' behaviour; but of solidarity, respect for human dignity and participation – all the values inherent in the Good Samaritan parable, as expounded by Pope Francis in his latest encyclical Fratelli Tutti. The encyclical is a clarion call for the refounding of the capitalist system.

The Spirit of Jesus is with us

Hope keeps us moving forward on track. We are not lost. God is present in the midst of the pain. God, indeed, is groaning in labour also (Romans 8:22-27).

The pandemic reminds us that we are in the midst of a rite of passage to new life, our ritual guide, and one with us, is the Spirit of Jesus.

The Spirit of Jesus, our journey's companion, is with us, groaning with us, interceding for us; it is a cooperative action of the praying Christian with the revitalising encouragements of the Spirit. A central task in this in-between-time is to pray, with the Spirit taking the lead as it were, in the midst of the world's pains. It is time for lamentation, for prayer in the midst of the chaos of the pandemic: How long must I bear pain in the soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!...But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation (Psalm 13:2, 3, 5).

Lamentation is inspired by hope. Lamentation releases energy for creative pastoral action within the People of God and the refounding of ministries.

Praise for The Pandemic and the People of God

“The best book I have read on the pandemic. After an unflinching diagnosis, the book is a summons to radical, active, transformative hope among those who have the wits and the courage to ‘refound’ viable community. It is framed according to Catholic Social Teaching, but has a deep appeal for those of us outside that particular frame of reference. In Arbuckle’s knowing hands the pandemic becomes a venue for radical restorative hope.”

—Walter Brueggemann, author,
A Gospel of Hope

“This compelling treatise incisively dissects the chaos of the pandemic and masterfully articulates rites of passage and actionable strategies for refounding a post-COVID-19 world and church. A must-read practical guide for individuals, institutions, and nations yearning for a ‘new heaven and a new earth’ animated by solidarity, compassion, and justice.” 

Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, SJ, President of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar

Walid Alhusien with his wife and five children live in one room in a house of multi-occupation in south London, and share two mattresses

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