A Question of Faith, Fr Liam Power’s Fortnightly Column
MR Christy Wall, one of our great stalwarts in St Joseph and Benildus Church, died last week. Christy was a resident in St Joseph’s Nursing Home for some time and unfortunately was infected by Covid-19. It was a very sad time for Christy’s family and his many friends as final farewells were hugely restricted. The funeral service was restricted to a handful of people as we were compelled to observe regulations governing such services.
Christy was our caretaker in St Joseph and St Benildus Church and was one of the most dedicated, loyal and obliging people you could meet. It is tragic that such a fine man as Christy should go to his eternal reward in these circumstances.
Christy is a face, a real person behind the grim statistics that nursing or care homes account for almost 60% of coronavirus-related deaths in our country.
I don’t believe it was inevitable that such a high proportion of Covid related deaths occurred in care homes. It was a policy decision to prioritise hospitals and the safety of the general public. It meant that the State then competed with care homes for staff and equipment, such as PPE and oxygen, and left them ill-prepared to protect against the virus. The deployment of staff to such homes was on a voluntary basis and it was hopelessly inadequate. Such decisions dramatically highlight the results of our failure to think and to plan systemically.
“You have no steady income to get you through this hard time… and the lockdowns are becoming unbearable” – the worker should not have to suffer like this.
In the States, the Trump administration failed to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic in a systemic manner and there is no doubt that this has caused much more suffering than necessary and dramatically increased mortality rates. Take for example the failure of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to act as a centralised purchasing agent for equipment such as ventilators and PPE etc. The agency could then have allocated items according to need to various states. Instead we had the bizarre scenario of states competing against each other for vital equipment and thereby pushing up the price. The cost of ventilators almost trebled.
It might be too soon to reflect on lessons to be learned from this awful catastrophe and to imagine or envision a post Coronavirus world order. But, as the roadmap for the reopening of society is gradually introduced, it is surely time to begin such reflections. One of the key learnings is surely the failure of policy makers and leaders throughout the world to think, to plan and to view our world and society in a holistic, systemic perspective, recognising the interdependence and interconnectedness of all. A brief reflection on the origins of the Coronavirus will serve to illustrate this point.
Environmental theologian Sean McDonagh points out that “many commentators on Covid-19 fail to make any connection between it and the destruction of the natural world… no one mentioned the fact that large scale deforestation, habitat degradation, intensive agriculture, trade in species and climate change all contribute to biodiversity loss and in the process facilitate the rise of new pandemics.” We forget that over the last two decades we have been inflicted with viruses such as Covid-10, SARS, MERS, Ebola, HIV.
He warns that the destruction of biodiversity will result in the escalation of pandemics in the future unless we change some of our practices.
He is particularly scathing of modern industrial farms where “we crowd cattle, pigs, chickens into crammed living spaces which can become a breeding ground for viral pathogens.” The animals are dosed with antibiotics to protect them against such infection but unfortunately this creates the perfect conditions for anti-biotic resistant pathogens to thrive.
The key learning for us is that the way we engage with the natural world will impact on us humans. Unless we change our practices we will suffer the consequences. In other words, we have to think and act systemically, recognising the interconnectedness of every aspect of our world.
Pope Francis has challenged us to embrace a holistic, systemic vision in planning for a post-pandemic world. In particular, he argues that it is time to consider the introduction of a universal basic wage or income to “acknowledge and dignify the noble, essential tasks (of workers)” and to “achieve the ideal… of no worker without rights.” He argues from the reality of the lives of many workers, the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns are making it difficult, if not impossible, for people to earn money.
“You have no steady income to get you through this hard time… and the lockdowns are becoming unbearable.” The worker should not have to suffer like this.
Social Justice Ireland and the Green Party are advocating that the basic income be introduced here. It is an unconditional payment from the state to every resident, on an individual basis, without any means test, or labour market requirement. It should be sufficient to live a frugal, but decent, lifestyle and is to be given to everyone. This concept should at least be given serious consideration by all political parties and trade unions and other activists. It is a good example of how thinking systemically could facilitate the creation of a much more integrated and cohesive society.
The pandemic should also lead to reform in the Church. Interestingly, the president of the German episcopal conference, Bishop Georg Batzing, has in effect called for a much more systemic approach to our pastoral outreach. He argues that we must shift perceptions of the Church’s teaching away from being seen as prohibitive morality disconnected from people’s lives. For example, he argues that the Church should endorse the blessing of same-sex couples. If it is true love that lives commitment and faithfulness we must recognise it. Much scope for further debate here!
Christy Wall’s death is not just another statistic. It compels us to shift our thinking for abstract policy making to one that embraces the real lives of our people. We are challenged to shift our framework of thought to a more systemic one which recognises the reality of our interconnectedness. What affects one, affects all.