We end the year 2020 different than the way we entered it. Nobody could foresee a pandemic to break out and change our way of living and thinking.
Though Papua New Guinea and the countries of the Pacific have been least affected in terms of infections compared to other parts of the world, still the disruption has been significant. Travels have been reduced. People got stuck overseas. Projects came to a halt waiting for clarity. Jobs have been lost.
The government and civil society had to move fast to organize a response to the health crisis capable of limiting the damage in terms of spreading of the virus and loss of lives.
We commend the PNG government for the realistic and effective approach, open to the suggestions of science and international cooperation. The weak health care system of the country was not overwhelmed. People did not die in their homes or in the streets. There was no chance for absurd accusations of sorcery and witchcraft. Needless, to say, however, that the risk is not over yet. The virus still prospers in many other countries of the world, especially the most developed in Europe and America. It can still catch up with the Pacific.
The first victims are those infected, who got sick and even died. But not less unfortunate are those who lost their income and job due to the contraction of the economy and business. Without a salary life becomes particularly hard for families with children and school fees to bear. Personal health care is neglected in favor of food on the table and other basic needs. The weakness of the human condition has become once again evident and so the need for brotherhood and universal friendship.
It was such a consolation, therefore, the gift of the encyclical letter “Fratelli Tutti” (All Brothers) by Pope Francis on the 4th of October, Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. The post-coronavirus world will have to look different.
Some of what the pandemic has forced on us, such as a reduced attack on the environment or a lower quantity on emission of greenhouse gases, will have to become a choice and a decision. The pandemic has been a warning that nature is still in control and is unpredictable. We have been told to pause and to think; not to proceed with business as usual. Universal brotherhood is the key to fighting misfortune and to averting it.
It was a disappointment to see Papua New Guinea descend into a political play during such a health crisis and an economic crisis. The public could not understand and justify it. There is nothing wrong with political ambition and politically motivated moves by the people’s representatives. But the motivations should be strong and evident, not pretentious, debated in Parliament and not in remote and isolated locations with occasional and precarious political allies. Wealthy members of Parliament holding at ransom international cooperation and aid, investments, and the regular activity of government is an insult to the hardships people face and the daily sacrifices of honest public servants especially in the education and health sectors.
It is not going to be a very happy Christmas this year. Still the baby laid in a manger is a ray of hope. The smile we share can be more contagious than the virus still haunting us. The new year 2021 will be more desired than ever. May it bring an end to our sufferings and a renewed sense of unity and service. Happy festive season to all from the Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands!
This article by Father Giorgio Licini, PIME, CBC general secretary, is from The Catholic Reporter a publication of the Catholic Bishops Conference Papua New Guinea & Solomon Islands.