Connected isolation

07/05/2020 11:58

Some thoughts of Justice and Peace Europe about the world post COVID-19 and the potential impact of confinement on creativity and solidarity



The members of the Executive Committee of Justice and Peace Europe met last Thursday in a videoconference. We had a good discussion about the COVID-19 crisis and its consequences. Whilst accepting the contingency of our knowledge in this uncharted territory of human history with modesty we want to share with you a few of our thoughts and ideas.


Working from the home office may become a new standard for professional employment; attending classes while sitting in the kitchen a regular feature for students; shopping or consulting a physician whilst sitting in the armchair of our living room the new norm for all of us. We may have to travel less and stay in our neighbourhood, village our small town. With limited physical contacts and moves we – i.e. the richer
hemisphere - will resemble again pre-industrial societies, but – and here is the difference – thanks to the Internet we will still remain connected with the whole world.


We will be isolated and connected at once. Thus, connected isolation may become the new human condition, in which we have to look for new ways of solidarity and stave off the temptation to permanently close our doors and our minds as well. From a European perspective – it has to be said – this is not a nice perspective. Moving around freely across the continent has become part of our cherished life-style.


Connected isolation may, however, be the new reality from which to re-examine the prevalent socio-economic model of global integration. Reinforcing local circuits and cutting off global supply chains may reinforce global resilience on the longer term. It reduces waste and emissions, which is good. But in the short term it might also create hunger and political instability. Consider, for example, the global wheat markets: In 2018, Russia, Canada, the US, France and Australia exported wheat for nearly 30bn$ and Egypt, Indonesia, Algeria, Italy and the Philippines imported wheat for more than 10bn$. Interrupting global trade in wheat would hurt some of the poorest nations. This is also
the key message of the 31 March joint statement of the directors of FAO, WHO and WHO: “Millions of people around the world depend on international trade for their food security and livelihoods. As countries move to enact measures aiming to halt the accelerating COVID-19 pandemic, care must be taken to minimise potential impacts on the food supply or unintended consequences on global trade and food security… » Nevertheless, decentralising the production of strategically relevant goods across the whole planet should at least be looked at more closely as a long-term option for sustainable global economic development. Couldn’t the Holy See Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development set up a global commission to draft a plan for a more resilient globalisation?


Connected isolation may also become a serious challenge to the process of European integration. In his Easter Sunday “Urbi et Orbi” message Pope Francis alerted us: “After the Second World War, (Europe) was able to rise again, thanks to a concrete spirit of solidarity that enabled it to overcome the rivalries of the past. It is more urgent than ever, especially in the present circumstances, that these rivalries do not regain force, but that all recognize themselves as part of a single family and support one another. The European Union is presently facing an epochal challenge, on which will depend not only its future, but that of the whole world. Let us not lose the opportunity to give further proof of solidarity, also by turning to innovative solutions. » What kind of innovative solutions could we think of? Should the European institutions be granted more competences in areas like public health and civil protection? What kind of consensus building and what kind of initiatives would lead to more empathy and active solidarity among EU Member States? The Church – COMECE, CCEE, Justice and Peace Europe with the support of the Dicastery and the Secretariat of State at the Holy See – should start a process of reflection and discussion on these questions.


Connected isolation may also pose geopolitical and political threats. Many observers agree that existing tensions between China and the US may escalate into a new Cold War in the aftermath of the sanitary crisis. Serious reservations may arise about political leadership and their inability to protect the most vulnerable people and to reduce inequalities. They may increase and further undermine trust in politics. Stepping up the institutional relevance of scientific advice – not only on public health but also on climate related science - and a reinforced presence of scientists in the media may help avoiding geopolitical disruption. In this critical context and nourished by its own history the Church may have a word to say about fides et ratio, about religion and science.


Connected isolation can be experienced as a constraint. It can, however, also be a choice, and thus, become an expression of compassion and solidarity. Acknowledging the misconception of progress, control and permanent mobility may lead humanity to rediscover stabilitas as a basic human need, as a need for a sense of place, belonging and home. “The soul is no traveller,” writes Ralph Waldo Emerson. The Christian tradition may offer hints and some answers to the deep anthropological and spiritual questions arising from the current crisis. One example is the stabilitas loci Saint Benedict ordered in his monastic rule. Curiously, it was written at exactly the same time when the Justinian Bubonic plague appeared and provoked an estimated 30 million dead or about 20% of the global population at that time. Our theologians, reflecting together in ecumenical and interreligious circles, may be more needed than has been imagined in recent years.


Justice and Peace Europe will pursue its reflection on the consequences of the COvid-19 epidemic for our world and for our European continent, for our life and faith. We are sure that it will seriously affect our own work. We very much welcome, however, that the Holy Father has trusted the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Development and other services of the Holy See with putting in place a Church response to the COVID-19 crisis. As a universal institution and living force with contacts and roots all over the world the Church is ideally placed to contribute for a global to the threat, which also cares for social justice, peace and the environment. In this spirit we offer the thoughts formulated above for further discussion and reflection.


ExCo Justice and Peace Europe

30 April 2020